Each generation learns to study, learn and like to remember certain historic moments or some individuals whom that generation takes as extra-ordinary individuals. They may be leaders, leaders of politics or society or in some significant ways some individuals who in the short run might have had immense impact on that generation. However in the longer -term, historically significant longer period some other individuals emerge to make the most momentous landmark individuals. That is how immediately significant individuals fade away and others like writers or poets come to decide the contours of an age. Who would have imagined that hopeless individuals like Rousseau or the virtually fleeing Voltaire would replace all the glitter and glamour of the royal courts of their times to give mankind a new definition and a new meaning to lives even in our own times?
So, here we read a life and an obscure unlettered village lady’s life that in due course went on to acquire larger than life dimensions. She might not be the mother of the great Franklin D.Roosevelt whose mother from the very start felt convinced that her son is going to become a great man and so she collected all bits of papers and memorabilia as treasures for posterity. She was not wrong. Or, an ambitious Motilal Nehru who started in a humble way and as he prepared himself for service under the Mughals by learning Arabic and Persian, the basic requirements, went on to acquire name and fame and then he did rightly aspire still higher things for his only son.
So, the son was sent to Harrow and Cambridge. The rest is history.
Who can believe that this village woman with no such greater imagination than others possessed and yet, went on to send her only son, with a father left alone at the young age of 7/8 and yet she was so determined to give her son an education that eventually took him to Tagore’s Santiniketan and then surprisingly to Oxford University.
The young son didn’t disappoint her nor did he wait for others to come to his aid. Single-handedly, he did things, he was the first from his community to receive such an education and today, the Vadamalai family is the only one of its kind to have had two generation of Oxford education, a class education all the way and the only family in the community to have not only got such an unprecedented education of the highest quality, a liberal education in the truly aristocratic sense but also the only family to have forayed into entrepreneurship into the new economy of IT and the media business.
Now, V.Isvarmurti lives for the most of the month in Bangalore in the Indian Silicon Valley and the family, Kartik Isvamurti, Lawrence School, Lovedale, Delhi School of Economics (M.A.) and Wolfson College, Oxford (M. Sc Oxon). Mrs.V.Isvarmurti is an M.Sc in Food and Nutrition and the family, as a whole is engaged in the business ventures, print media and online media where wealth is created in the knowledge economy by the sheer power of the brains! In the new century we live in what is called a knowledge society, a knowledge economy where the capital is the intellectual capital, the sheer power of inventing and innovating new business models in a progressive chain of expanding outsourcing industry.
Vadamalai Media Group is engaged in certain crucial sectors that are critical to the Indian economy and the India of the future. Agriculture holds the key to the strength of our security; food security is the first criterion for a country’s security and sovereignty. That is why the VM Group had focused from day one in this crucial sector, the family is still engaged in farming and once a month they visit and stay in the village and keep up with the developments in the rural India. They publish a number of publications in English and the languages. They also publish and have their Internet ventures in education. Their agri internet venture is the first of its kind in India and also the first in the ranking in this segment. They run a successful Consultancy Services that take up new and innovative agro ventures to give Indian agriculture the much needed push towards more commercialized farming.
A farmer, an educator, a writer of competence in English as well as Tamil, a political activist and personality and a poet and an entrepreneur of rare imagination and all these make up the renaissance character of the personality of Isvarmurti. A born cosmopolitan and a secularist, he says that he was born in a remote village that spoke more than four languages and practiced more than two religions and yet the village lives as a close-knit family and so he asks: what is secularism and cosmopolitanism for a villager like him. It comes naturally to all villagers, he claims).So, we find a rare individual who doesn’t wear his political or secular credentials so artificially and he practices what he believes. How many can honestly claim to do so?
Yes, the one thing he didn’t achieve and that might come as a disappointment to his friends and well-wishers is that he didn’t achieve any high political office. This is true but then one has to look at one person’s life in all its totality. Isvarmurti’s life had some unusual twists and turns. Yet, there was this early prediction for his future greatness. In his first Oxford Union Debate, he spoke so boldly and so impressively that the next day his English friends at the breakfast table predicted that he would become the Prime Minister of India one day! Yes, this prediction remains unrealized.
But for this he says:” What does it matter whether one becomes or doesn’t a Prime Minister. See, my time Oxford man, Dr.Manmohan Singh, whom I didn’t take note of all my years is now a Prime Minister. This high political office is no more a matter of grooming. Now, it has become a gamble in the air! So, how can you rule out my chances? My chances are as good as one else’s chances! That is all to this business of becoming the Prime Minister. I know of some Prime Ministers whose credentials I didn’t rate high. So, I have no aspiration to become the Prime Minister. But yes, I aspire to do greater things. You have to wait and watch my next steps; all depends upon what you make in your entrepreneurial ventures in the next round! It is this that excites me!”
V.Isvarmurti was born in the mid-Thirties of the 20th century in a remote village of Tamil Nadu, 25 km from the city of Coimbatore, to a farming family with a long history of its own. The parents were unlettered but were attached to the only son, born after nearly 10 girls and with long years of penance and prayers for a male heir.
This was a tiny village located on the Tamil Nadu-Kerala border and as such the village of some 500 odd souls there was nothing except the tiny bits of agriculture land and the few farmers who had owned lands, it was this family that happened to own the largest tract of land. The f village was steeped in ignorance of the outside world and the parents lived a fairly contented life till the father lived till 1942 when there was this sudden turn to the family when the head of the family passed away leaving a son at a tender age.
The mother left the family affairs to one of her sons in law and took the son to the nearby Coimbatore city to put her son to an English education! The school’s name was CRR English Preparatory School. Who imagined in those far off times that this boy was destined to create history of sorts when he later went on to study at Oxford?
There were many surprises to come along. After she got her son finish the school, she searched for a boarding school. This she did more out of concern for her son’s safety in the village for it was the time when the Gounder families were so brutal in nature that with no education even among the vast majority of the caste people, there was jealousy and disputes over owning land. The family owned large properties, in the eyes of the neighbors and relations and the mother feared that her son’s life was in danger.
So, one of the few things the mother taught to her son from early age was not to eat any food or condiment from neighbors’ homes and not to go near the wells. When the son was born, the father didn’t allow the baby to crawl on the floor, he would always carry the baby on his shoulders, and when the baby was escorted in bullock carts and whenever there were jerks, the mother would carry the baby in her hands and after crossing the uneven paths the baby would be again put in the carts. Such was the tender care and love that were bestowed in caring for the only son!
The father would plough his lands, there were eight pairs of bullocks on the farm, that was a measure of the standing of the land owner in a village and there were many servants and one of the earliest memories of many elders in the village the family always had a surplus of food grains. Again another sign of the prosperity of the family and its fortunes.
In fact, Isvarmurti remembers those years later when the idea of going to Oxford took definite shape and a letter of introduction to Oxford was to be drafted. His English friend at Santiniketan, Jacques told him: “I will say now you come from the gentry’s class. They (at Oxford) only understand such things”. Those who came through scholarships were called scholars. Others paying fees were called Gentlemen commoners! Oxford or for that matter England is acutely conscious of class distinctions and a lot of snobbery was there.
So, in a way, when he now recollects his childhood days, he remembers all the little bits of small things and they all add up to a fairly well-off life, well-contented life in a distant village environment.
There used to be a goldsmith, working at one end of the household, this goldsmith would come every morning from a neighboring village and as the family had so many girls there was this need for an almost resident goldsmith to do the gold ornaments for the family. One of the earliest family photographs(alas, lost now) recalls Isvarmurti has all the girls standing by the side of their father, with the mother standing behind the husband ,the son held on the lap of the father in a turban tied in the typical Gounder style of authority. The mother was wearing all the jewels, around the neck and the bangles on her hands befitting her standing in the village society and the girls too were suitably bejeweled. It is again a sing of the standing of the family that it was a rare sing of the family made it in the scheme of things as it had thought fit to be photographed in keeping with the traditions.
There were a large number of framed pictures of the gods and the mythological figures hung on the walls. There were granite-laid floors and the woodwork in the mud-walled home was pure teak/rosewood which was in plentiful supply from the family lands as well. Isvarmurti remembers and recalls with regret that even after he came of age and later the family lands had rosewood trees of long standing. Alas, all these had gone off now!
“You would become Prime Minister of India”
Early September 1959
Oxford University Debating Union
Another unknown Indian?
There was some urgency and restlessness when the Youngman from the remote village reached the English shores. He wanted to do many things. He was determined to do something big and heroic .Oxford promised everything he dreamt about. It had history, tradition and certain glamour, glamour associated with imperial power and glory. Imperial power was unconsciously drilled into the minds and psyche of the Indians and in spite of the Independence and the special kind of leadership of Gandhi and Nehru, the long memories of Indians didn’t go away in so short a time.
Isvarmurti feels even now, after nearly more than half a century, when Dr.Manmohan Singh, as Prime Minister went to Oxford he was conferred a hon. degree and in return the Indian Prime Minister paid back his due by praising what Britain contributed to India. The PM failed to mention even what three new India had achieved. Such is our mental slavery, even the present day Oxbridge generation had not fully overcome, says he.
As soon as Isvarmurti reached Oxford, that was sometime in the second week of September, the first thing he did was to go and enroll himself as a member of the famous Oxford University Debating Society, simply called the Union Society. Readers in India might not know much about this historically important society. This was established in 1825 as a platform to train students to debate in the Parliamentary methods and in fact the rules are so framed as to follow the practices of the House of Commons.
In the words of one of the well-known British Prime Ministers, namely, Harold Macmillan (later he was also to become the Chancellor of Oxford University in a bitterly contested elections when Isvarmurti was still at Oxford):”The Oxford Union is unique in that it has provided an unrivalled training ground for debates in the Parliamentary style which no other debating society in any democratic country can equal”. Every Thursday evening at sharp 7 o clock there would be debates and the premises on Michael Street, in the very heart of Oxford town, the Society had established a reputation for style as well as much controversy. Often the proceedings of the Society would make front-page news in the national dailies.
One such controversial debate was in the month of February 1933 when the Union had the King and the Country debate. The motion was ‘that the House will in no circumstances fight for the King and his Country’ the speech was almost seditious considering the rise of Hitler and the mood of the nation. The main speaker was the great orator and writer C.E.M.Joad and the opposer was the then young Oxford undergraduate, just 25 and a Fellow of All Souls and a barrister and later-day celebrity as a politician and expert.
The debate was carried by 275 votes to 153.All hell broke out and there was a hue and cry, the ancient University turning against the country and it’s King! In the next debate the minutes were torn out of the Minute Book and in a subsequent debate the motion was introduced to legitimize the removal of the previous debates proceedings and though this was done the debate itself was defeat5ed! The Union was always known all over the world for its radical subjects for debates.
The members of the Debating Society used to get elected to the offices of president, secretary and librarian etc. Some of the past presidents were great men. At least five Prime Ministers were made on the debating platform. They were the famous Victorian Prime Minister, Gladstone, Salisbury, Asquith, Macmillan, Heath and they belonged to such Colleges like Christ Church and Balliol. The other leading Cabinet ministers or judges or scholars and leading politicians are too many mentions here. Among the famous Asian leaders Benazir Bhutto became the first woman president and among the Sri Lankan students, the recently assassinated Laxaman Kadirgamar was one such person.
Now, the most important and even sensational incident is that Isvarmurti as soon as he enrolled himself as a member was called upon to give his trial speech. As he was already a successful debater at the Visva Bharati University days he jumped at the invitation and gave a fiery speech! Because one of the judges of the trial debate was none other than the (now) well-known British public figure, Peter Jay. He was at that time an active debater and was to become soon the president. He wrote in the assessment note about Isvarmurti”s speech:” You speak well but make your speech rather in a slow delivery mode….’
The next morning Isvarmurti, as usual went to the break -fast table and there was a chorus of voices greeting him: “Ah, you? You the great debater among us.., Oh, you would surely become the Prime Minister of India, one day!” This incident had been mentioned by Isvarmurti many times in his conversations whenever the subject of the Debating Society came up and he still retains fond memories for the Union. But only lately a confirmation to the incident came out when we chanced to trace a letter he wrote home as soon as he settled down in Oxford in his College .This letter was the first he wrote from England to his home.
The letter had been traced much later than the dates after Isvarmurti wrote his first quasi-autobiography: “Oxford and Other Essays on Education” This book was published in 1984.He also wrote after many years a full length autobiography in Tamil. The English book contains some essays other than the autobiographical parts. The Tamil book, running into some 700 odd pages is an out and out autobiography. Here too the events are not covered in any detail or not enough attention had been given to some crucial dates and events but more of the writer’s own opinions and reflects his new found interests and views on what he considers the most important from his point of view.
But the one letter that throws light on his mind, immediately after reaching England is more interesting. The letter narrates to one of his relations and with a view of giving such information and news that might also interest his mother and close relatives in the village. The letter narrates his daily routine, his morning breakfast, the dress code, pullover and jacket, the rooms he was allotted, one large enough room with carpet and a piano in the corner and another adjacent room for sleeping, two alternative English servants(scouts) and the impressions he formed about the English boys.
There is a mention that he visited Cambridge and met one Mr.A.K.Sen. This Sen. is none other than the now world famous Prof.Amartya Sen, the Nobel Prize winner for economics in 1998. Isvarmurti knew Sen from his Santiniketan days as Sen belongs to Santiniketan where his grandfather was a close associate of Gurudev Tagore. It was Sen and his Cambridge associate, one Jacque Sassoon, whom Isvarmurti met one day and their association put the idea of going to Oxford in his mind first. So, the first friend he could think of in England was Sen and hence the trip he made to Cambridge.
We find that Isvarmurti was already a highly opinated Youngman and thus we find him criticizing the lack of confidence among the Indian boys and the confidence with which he started life. His tutor who corrected his answer papers that were delivered through his Indian university professor wrote to the Warden: “This student is a potential first class student”. That settled his admission requirements finally. Though he was still to take a three year course and one subject was French language with which he grappled for some more time.
Luckily he got a first class M.A from Visva Bharati the results of the same were communicated to him. That entitled him to pass off one year and he was raised to what is called a two year ‘senior status’.
Isvarmurti was admitted to New College by the then Warden served previously as British Ambassador to Soviet Union. It was an unusual admission for Isvarmurti. The practice then was for Indian students to seek admission to Oxford and Cambridge through the Indian High Commission. He tried this channel for long without success. It was only later he found out that given the Indian mindset, then as well as now, the admissions to Oxbridge colleges were kept a closely guarded secret and only the sons and daughters of the Indian bureaucrats, ICS and IAS officers and the rare cases of the sons and daughters of the Indian maharajas used to get there.
In fact, it was Isvarmurti’s acquaintance with Amartya Sen, now the famous Nobel Prize winner in economics, who is originally from a Santiniketan family the idea of going to Oxford came into Isvarmurti’s mind. Sen introduced him to another friend in Kolkatta. After the initial attempts and after a prolonged correspondence with the Indian High Commission he did the unusual!
In a dramatic change of style one day Isvarmurti wrote directly to some of the big Oxford and Cambridge Colleges. One such Cambridge College and one such admissions tutor was Maurice Dobb, who was Sen’s own tutor! Dobb said in a characteristic way,’ he himself was a Marxist and whether you would benefit under me!’ Isvarmurti says the correspondence became a bulky file and he had to throw out the big bundle once he was confirmed at New Colleges. A 13th century college and one of the largest and wealthiest at Oxford. When the news of his admission was conveyed to Sen, Sen himself was surprised and asked Isvarmurti: “How did you get in?”
There was no stopping of his many enthusiasms. He became a regular participant in the Union debates, though he says that after a few terms he had to give up for the obvious reason he couldn’t pay up the rather high membership fees and also his interests took different paths. He however remembers the two or three famous debates, in which Macmillan once took part when the other speaker was no less than the then Prime Minister of Ireland. Another debate was there in which Pandit Nehru participated. It was almost a great tradition, to be invited to speak there in the hallowed premises and also it was a mark of recognition for the visiting dignitaries to be so invited.
Nowadays, the subjects of debates are becoming often more funny and more controversial and also the speakers so invited comprise the famous and the notorious, more girls now participate and there is still the glamour and fame attached to Union activities and Union activists!
Isvarmurti went on to join the many Clubs that are famous there. He joined the Oxford Poetry Club and met and talked with many then famous poets like Stephen Spender and he also joined the Oxford Labor Club. He was soon elected as President of the Oxford University Indian Students Associational and in that capacity he invited so many famous men of the time, the most notable figure Isvarmurti remembers and speaks with enthusiasm was Kingley Martin, the famed editor of the Socialist Weekly, The New statesman. He became a regular reader of this magazine and wrote letters to the Editor. He became a convinced Fabian Socialist!
It was the time when the Labour leaders were of high caliber and New College was the training ground for the Labour party leaders, Hugh Gaitskell was a frequent visitor to the Colleges and in fact Isvarmurti’s scout used to tell him that he served Hugh Gaitskell when the leader was a student there! When Nehru visited England and Oxford Isvarmurti followed him everywhere, he attended Nehru’s speeches in London and saw the other great Labour leaders like Clement Atlee and others, V.K.Krishna Menon and the many Labour intellectuals and writers in close quarters.
The other British VIPs he invited to the Indian Association were the last Commander In Chief of the British Army, Claude Achinlock. The man wrote a postcard from a remote English countryside home expressing his wish to oblige and yet couldn’t make it at the last minute, owing to some reason or other. Another letter came to Isvarmurti from Sir John Stratchy, the famous radical and one-time Communist sympathizer. The others who came were Sir Pethick Lawrence, of the Cabinet Mission fame and the Left Publisher, Victor Gollanz.
Isvarmurti was a rarity among his fellow Indian students. Among his friends were sons and daughters of the ICS and there was even a Nizam princess, Nawab of Pattaudi, the cricketeer and so many ICS sons, one year junior to Isvarmurti at New College was the late Madhavrao Scindia. There were also other cricketers, Abbas Ali Baig and his brother Murtaza Ali Baig was his contemporary at New College. The white boys would go mad over cricket and the Indians made a name and so they were always surrounded by white young men. There were also a good number of Pakistanis and Sri Lankans, some among them became Isvarmurti’s friends. In fact, he says and remembers that the late Lakshman Kadirgamar and he used to discuss the project of publishing back in their respective countries the political weeklies modeled on the lines of New statesman!
He read British Parliamentary History as a special paper and as such he developed a fascination for some of the British statesmen of the past. He became a great admirer of Benjamin Disraeli and one day he told his fellow Indian friend, Rudolf DeMello that he wanted to visit Disraeli’s country home. DeMello brought his car and the two travelled all the way to the great statesman’s house, somewhere near Henley and every item in the house the books, the ceremonial robes worn by Disraeli when he was the Prime Minister down to other memorabilia were scrutinized by the young enthusiast.
He had also mentioned the lovely woods surrounding the huge buildings and he has noted in an earlier account that” visit brought a new inspiration and importance of public life and I decided somewhere along the walk on the hallowed grounds that my field must be different from the humdrum careers. Politics was certainly on my mind (Oxford and other Essays, page 50).He must have read every piece of writing about Disraeli, he says.
Of course he appreciated other statesmen as well, one other great man was Gladstone, well- educated(Eton and Oxford)unlike Disraeli, who as a Jew suffered so many handicaps and yet made it to the top of the ‘greasy pole’s as he himself described politics to be!
There were also at Oxford at this time a large number of Indian students who were there as government scholars for doing research. These rather senior students came from more humble backgrounds were more nationalistic and it was this group who set up Isvarmurti’s candidature and defeated what was thought to be the more glamorous Westernized Indian students!
One of the students of these humbler backgrounds was none other than our present Prime Minister Dr., Manmohan Singh who was at Nuffield, along with Dr.Jagadish Bhagawathi.
Says Isvarmurti: “I didn’t take too much notice of such research scholars for I was so confident that it was the undergraduate course where you read Plato and Aristotle and Decartes who are clever students. We were feeling so superior to others!” The course he studied, the PPE (Philosophy, Politics and Economics) was called Modern Greats as in contrast to the classical Greats (Greek, Latin and ancient philosophy and languages). Yet, the Modern Greats was the modern equivalent to the old classical education. Isvarmurti feels proud to have had great teachers for his subjects, some of them went on to win Nobel Prizes and equivalent distinctions and they have all become truly immortal in the history of modern knowledge.
He feels that in British Parliamentary history, you can see the making of all our modern notions of Parliamentary principles and conduct and Oxford had created the tradition of classical education and public duty. The 18th century Britain created outstanding statesmen like the Pitts, elder and younger, the 19th century produced leaders like Gladstone and Disraeli. The high ideals were derived from Greece and Rome. So the ideal political leaders were seen as voices from the Delphic Oracle, or the Grand Roman speech and leadership and the admirers of great poets like Virgil or orators like Cicero. So, drawn in this highly idealistic background it was no doubt that Isvarmurti thought himself seriously and took his political ideals too high>Or, too high to become not so easy to practice?
The archetypal educated Indian is a bureaucrat
Why Indians are subservient in character?
Chairman of Union Public Service Commission vested Oxford
One of the highlights of his time was his president ship of the Indian students association.
He did certain things or some events intervened when he was the President of the Oxford University Indian Students Association. One was a visit by the then Chairman of the Union Public Service Commission, one Mr.Hejmadi.
He was a nice person, a gentleman to the core and as President of the Association Isvarmurti received him, he remembers, at the Railway station and escorted him to the town. He hosted a lunch for the distinguished visitor and that day’s programme was to gather the Indian students to meet the dignitary who was keen to meet and exchange views with the students. So, a meeting was fixed for the evening at Isvarmurti’s own New College.
Hejmadi was his guest and so the luncheon meeting was very warm and very cordial. May be as a gesture of goodwill or concern Mr.Hejmadi asked his host over the lunch “Mr.Murti, what would you want to do after your Oxford education?”
Recalling the very day and moment Isvarmurti says: “That question from Hejmadi pierced through my heart. My very identity seemed to have been questioned! Why? Because in my time going to Oxford for the majority of Indian students didn’t mean other than getting into the administrative service or the academic field. The students of my generation came mostly from upper class background and with an air of self-confidence. This self-confidence sprang forth, I was soon to discover, from their rather pretentious middle class lifestyle of English medium education in a public school and seeking an entry into government service! That was all to their education and aspirations. Thus there was a big gap in my outlook, between me and my fellow Indians. With all their pretensions to the contrary, they were aspiring to join the mighty, as they imagined the Indian Administrative Service and thereafter lead a kushy but humdrum life. Here, was I from a Gandhian school, and from Gurudev’ Tagore”s Santiniketan, with full of nationalism and patriotism and a deep indoctrination in the Indian ideals and as such I found myself at odds with the fellow Indians. When the centenary of Tagore was to be celebrated, I found out surprisingly not many knew about Tagore or Santiniketan and I was the only speaker and a sort of an authority for the day! So, I was nursing much prejudice against these types of aping Indian types and so when Mr.Hejmadi asked me the question, I remember I didn’t answer, I simply burst out!”
Says he further:
“I said to the honorable visitor at his face: “Mr.Hejmadi, I don’t know what I want to do back in India but I know certainly well that I won’t enter the IAS!”. Of course, Mr.Hejmadid didn’t expect such a rude answer and he was mildly shocked, though he didn’t show it!
That evening there was the scheduled meeting. I told my secretary, one Parsi girl, named one Vajifdar, to make sure the she collected all the dues to the Association, dues that were not paid and that remained a ticklish issue for us running the Association affairs. So, Ms Vajifdar blocked entry to the meeting and so many paid of their dues pending for months and got into the hall. I could remember some of the names, names that are even now making rounds in the New Delhi corridors, those who now hang around the big and small, good and bad, just to survive and to seek out the same old colonial style mental slavery that never, it seems, would leave Indians, Oxbridge or otherwise!”
So, we could see how different a personality he is.
When we query him about Dr.Manmohan Singh, now the Prime Minister and he was his contemporary at Oxford, Isvarmurti dismisses the question with the retort:” He is a bureaucrat as Prime Minister; he is not a political leader as any PM must be! He is, of course, an archetypal Indian, the same self-effacing, subservient character, modest outlook and career goals, to be a successful bureaucrat and serve all the masters, it makes no difference to Dr.Singh, otherwise a good man. Whether he works as a master or a servant, as long he is at the right slot and moves forward. We, Indians, even if we are highly educated, don’t know what our future can be or should be. We feel quite secure in a hierarchy and so why blame the poor Doc, as he is affectionately called? He is otherwise doing a good job. The point is that India has been a slave nation for over 1,000 years and our conception of education, for long and even to some extent, is how to get a government job and we are too willing to salaam our masters whatever be our station in life, rent we?”
He had known many Prime Ministers closely, from Nehru to Indira Gandhi to Chandrashekhar to V.P.Singh to Deve Gowda and Atulbihar Vajpayee. Each one has had his or her own strengths and weaknesses. He says that any leader worth his salt must have certain basic political beliefs, belief system. Otherwise, they are not leader. So, he had admired some Prime Ministers for their idealism and when he found when they strayed away from the straight path he distanced himself from them. He never sought for any favors and that was against his salt, as can be seen.
Yes, this is the philosophy Isvarmurti had articulated in all his writings, on some vital topics like education and politics and also in a more comprehensive way in his recent collection of poems dealing with diverse topics.
One of his perennial concerns is to study the Indian character, how subservient we have always been, investigating the theme, very much on the lines of what Nirad Choudhry had been doing all his life. The 400 years of British rule so weakened the Indian minds.”
Even in Bengal where he had lived, he says, the Bengal renaissance did many good things. At least in Bengal there was this integration of the native and the Western education and culture. There were also the great urban upper class Bengali families, the Tagore family and other more Westernized families like the Mullick’s Marble Palace, adjacent to Tagore’s Jorasanhcho, which even today stands as mute witness to the thorough Westernized Indian preoccupations, be it arts or cultures, unlike the Tagores who at one point abandoned the Western arts and preoccupations for a thoroughgoing Indianisation.
In the South, in the then Madras Presidency there was no such Indian Renaissance, it was rather the contrary phenomenon of petty Madras Dubashes, the brokers for the English traders and also the petty zamindars who had no Western education or the means of knowing what was Westernized learning. Even the Raja Serfoji 11 was better placed. He read English books; he read Shakespeare and had immense curiosity. The Tamil society, even then became happily a colony for the foreigners or even for leaders from the North, here thrived the Theosophists from the West and the Ramakrishna Mission from Bengal! Tamils are always ready for subordinate services only!
Of course today the Indian scenario had changed thoroughly. Bengal is gone and Bangalore is up in the scheme of things.
Isvarmurti argues that basically the Indian mind had become bureaucratic, very rule-bound. As for him, the whole world had changed. Says he”: Look, I live and work in Bangalore, the Silicon Valley. I live a, if I can say so, a high-tech life! What does it mean? I spend my time and my day’s work according to some plan; I have to use my computers, Internet and all the high-tech gadgets like the Weblog to reach to the entire world. I am a globalist, a secularist and a world citizen. My dominant identity is this, I can’t focus on only politics, it is one part of my life, and there are other parts. My goals are many and I operate in a range of fields, from farming to literature to promoting Tamil to promoting a healthy political culture in TN and at the all India level. I know we can’t have Gandhi and Nehru as role models anymore. We have to work, create wealth, create jobs and live a life that is rich and multifaceted. Why invite comparisons where it won’t apply? I live in the present time, my mind is open and my learning dictates a different world view…”
Yes, there is much to learn from talking with such a richly endowed personality, a delicate and sensitive and committed mind.
What Isvarmurti says make us think deeply and seriously. Indian minds, he says, is not still oriented towards independent thinking, we are still seeking authority, reference and justification. On our own we don’t hold any independent views on a wide range of subjects or issues, says he. How true, we wonder!
Of course the long shadow of the memories of the British Empire hangs heavily on the Indians, of this generation too and as such our reflexes are surely pointers to the way Indians, more so the educated Indians, from the older middle and even upper classes, face the harsh realities of a democratic India.
When queried about the Rajiv Gandhi generation, Isvarmurti says:” Please read what I had written in my book. Rajiv Gandhi and his generation?” Not full-fledged Oxbridge men. Rather as pretenders. For Oxbridge education is nothing if not strongly committed to an intelligent appreciation of the long traditions obtaining there and certain attachment to high principles and demonstration of great leadership qualities”
Alas! The Rajiv Gandhi generation has now been bypassed by a new set of pretenders, a poor shadow of the bygone age and now it is ruthless pursuit of power at any cost. May be the times are such! One can’t be sure! For Isvarmurti remains unperturbed. Says he:” What matters are not the immediate issues. It is the long-term outcome and the deeper implications for what we do and what we fail to do. Every one of us should do what one is destined to do. History is the best judge… “How true!
On a calmer note Isvarmurti observes:” What Indira Gandhi did was so much wrong in so many areas. She legitimised any means to achieve her ends. Rajiv didn’t see any distinction between bureaucrats and politicians; in fact he himself was a pilot. So, all sorts of persons entered politics and they made a mess, didn’t they?”
“Now, it is all the way bureaucrats, retired bureaucrats are back in numbers, with a vengeance! So many committees with no tangible benefit. And latest, the criminals in politics along with the businessmen, and any influence buyers can enter Rajya Sabha and the very institutions are diluted. Where is the place for any idealism or any vision for India? Let us see…”
For Isvarmurti his path seems clear. He would keep the bureaucrats apart. Politics must evolve on some fundamental beliefs. This is his stand and he seems to be working on this belief. His thoughts and writings are on a wide range of subjects. Most of his time now is devoted to many practical projects, not only entrepreneurial ventures, there are so many “lost causes” are also on his high priorities. He considers himself even now as a politician, interested in effecting radical changes in society and politics, in influencing practical policy changes, so he is at any point of time a political activist! “I am a Congressman, outside the Congress!” he says jokingly. For record he joined the Congress party as soon as he landed in India, way back in 1961!
A unique personality
How a robust cultural taste and outlook can shape a personality?
Things aesthetic always interested him.
Isvarmurti’s education at Oxford and his travels in Europe and staying with families in the European countries, he came early in life to the European cultural influences. These have made a deep impact on his personality. First time acquaintances might mistake him to be a typical India, He is and yet he is not! There is a distinct layer of subdued cosmopolitanism about him that anyone can easily miss this invisible layer over his persona, the way he talks, gestures, the deep convictions he brings to bear to his expressions, words and ways of speaking could make all the difference to his personality.
Culture is a simple word but a highly difficult concept. Education we understand. Culture too we understand. But to understand a personality like Isvarmurti, there is a great need for understanding what education and culture means and how these two concepts in the case of Isvarmurti’s evolution as a distinct person and a personality have played the most crucial role.
Culture is both a material and a non-material concept. Culture is visible and also invisible. It says much about our material desires, beautiful things, homes, cars and furniture, paintings and music. But culture is also about our mind, our mental processes, what we believe and what we stand for. How courageous are we or how diffident we are. Such questions don’t matter for the vast majority in this country, perhaps. But in highly developed and highly civilized societies, it is the strength and meaning of our belief systems that defines the persons and leaders of thought and society.
So, in a significant way, Isvarmurti’s personality is shaped by his cultural tastes and his aesthetic pursuits. Any person of great character is imbued with a sense of aesthetics about him or her. Swamy Vivekananda or Mahatma Gandhi or Pandit Nehru invokes in us a refreshing sense of clean feeling, isn’t it so? This unique sense of such an uplifting feeling about certain class of individuals, Isvarmurti says, is what he calls the aesthetic sense and the sense of beauty and beautiful form and fulfills our minds and hearts and enhances our own sense of living as well! So, we are here faced with Isvarmurti’s unique evolution as a person filled with an intense sense of aesthetics.
In fact, he traces his interest in Tolstoy and John Ruskin, the two figures of whom Gandhiji admired and took as his role models, for Isvarmurti give a different aesthetic perspective. Isvarmurti had come under the spell of these two men, for the twin reasons of their literary and artistic merit, as well as for their moral appeal. Gandhiji took only one side of these two men, says Isvarmurti and left out the other equally and in some peoples’ estimate the more important side of their literary and artistic sense, their aesthetic genius.
Says he elsewhere in one of his writing:” I remember reading one day at the (Oxford) University Parks the biography of Leo Tolstoy by… Aylmer Maude. Some 1,000 pages! When I came to the section describing Tolstoy leaving his home without informing his wife and when he later died in a railway station, I didn’t realize I was crying aloud! I hastily wiped out my tears; otherwise some strangers in the Park might notice my behavior!”
Yes, Tolstoy was a great writer of epic kind and then only a moralist. His short stories and novels could make a powerful impact on anyone who reads them. So too John Ruskin. Ruskin (1819-1900) an aesthete, an artist and writer, his strong views on arts and architecture made a powerful impression on his age. His love for design was such that when the Keble College building at Oxford was constructed he was so upset that for the rest of his life, it was said, he stopped walking past that ‘ugly’ structure!
Such was his love for beautiful structures. The English prose reached its height of beauty with his powerful pen and, says Isvarmurti:” Yes, much had changed since the two great men lived and preached and yet I often feel like going back to them whenever I am in some doubt and need some light. Tolstoy and Ruskin continue to be my bedside companions!” He visited once the Lake District in North England to visit Conistern, the place where Ruskin spent his last years,” It was a pilgrimage for me” he says. Likewise, when he went to Soviet Russia in 1961, he made it a point to visit Tolstoy’s home in Moscow.
For Isvarmurti aesthetic sensibility is not just arts but also the men and women, the human character that distinguishes certain persons from others and makes their lives themselves into something to be appreciated with a new heightened sense of admiration.
And he is not swayed by the Western mode of thinking nor he is he enamored by what the British writers and critics have made a monopoly of certain views long held by educated society, more so in India. V.S.Naipaul has said that we Indians are made to believe all sorts of things(learning English manners and that sort of things) about Jane Austen( this terrible vapid woman, and her so called love life-she calls it ‘love’) her artistic sensibility etc. Yes, why only Jane Austen but about a whole lot of rather what we should now feel a range of minor English writers and authors are over-blown.
As Naipaul says if your country is important politically then your country’s writing also becomes important. Now, England is not our country and also Indians had never had the opportunity to appreciate the greater European writers, French writers like Maupassant and Balzac and had opportunity to look and appreciate the great artists. No country but France could produce such great artists: Delacroix, Manet Renoir, Cezanne, Degas and Van Gogh, Gauguin and others. Even Picasso became great only in Paris. Anyone who has no bare acquaintance with Italian Renaissance or the modern Impressionists or the great European classical music wont makes much headway in the international world of culture. We Indians have to learn to learn new things, read new authors, in English translations.
Europe, now we can see, has more to contribute to the arts and cultures of the modern world than what we know just from England only. To understand Europe without knowing something about their great musical traditions and their contributions to knowledge, philosophy and sciences is simply impossible. Here we see in Isvarmurti a rare combination of cosmopolitanism without being tied to what the British education gave him.
Isvarmurti is truly an internationalist, a citizen of the world, a secularist par excellence with no narrow caste or other narrow prejudices. His identity is multiple and multi-dimensional and he is your neighbor as well as one who can feel at home in London or New York! Indians, he says, need to detach themselves from the historic accident s of geography and history and must learn to reach out to the wider world in this era of globalization.
Swami Vivekananda in the late 19th century was one such individual whom Isvarmurti admires from his school days (It was a Ramakrishna Mission School) and he feels that Vivekananda also has to be seen as a whole personality. We have to have the more artistic vision to see the swamy neither as a god man nor as a Hindu but a progressive near secular religious soul!
It might come as a surprise to those who do not know Isvarmurti that he was deeply interested in things aesthetic. This should come as a surprise only to those who don’t know him intimately. He became interested in the arts, drawing and painting, writing poetry very early in life. In the high school he won prizes at an inter-school competition for the nearby three or four districts, for painting and for his poetry. He published his first poem when he was in the 9th standard in a locally known literary monthly magazine edited by a competent literary personality.
Of course, he went to a high class Gandhian school whose founder was a known Gandhian; the headmaster was a well-established poet and short story writer of the day, the late Periyasamy Thooran. Also he joined the music class taught by a well-qualified Carnatic musician, named One Subramanian. So, the early grounding in the arts was considerable.
When he went to Chennai for his college education, it was a college, Pachayappa’s. Where Gandhiji himself came and addressed on his first visit to the South, the college had a liberal air, there was always openness and the Dravidian politics fully flowered in that environment. For Isvarmurti the exposure to Chennai brought out the literary personality to full bloom.
He had bought and read the biography of the famous short story writer, Pudumaipithan, even when he was in the school and so once in Chennai he was drawn to the famous writers, ranging from such great scholar like Thiru.Vi.Ka, whom the young student went and met and paid his respects, as the grand old man of Tamil scholarship was on his death bed. He attended the Tamil Writers Association meeting held at the Mahajana Sabha, off the Mount Road and had seen such greats like Kalki and Narana Duraikann, Thi.Ja.Ra and others. Then in 1954, T.M.C.Raghunathan, the friend and literary heir of Pudumaipithan brought out a literary magazine, Santhi, (Peace) and there was this notice inviting poems for a competition. Isvarmurti wrote for this competition and surprisingly his poem was printed with a big display on two pages! That made him poet overnight, as it were!
Now, after many years later, his contemporary of those days, the well-known novelist and Marxist writer, Ku.Chinnappa Bharati had informed Isvarmurti the circumstance in which he wrote the poem. It was Bharati who suggested the idea as he was a sympathiser already of the Leftist causes and he bought and brought the magazine to Isvarmurti’s notice. So, the first poem getting the attention of Raghunathan, himself a leading poet of great originality, made Isvarmurti the poet. Another contemporary of those days, this time, it was Mr.Neelamani, himself a writer, wrote in his novel about the days at Pachappa’s. In which one passage comes about Isvarmurti, with name and description, Isvarmurti always in a pure white khadi, and with a Pudumaipithan photography hanging in his hostel room. All these anecdotes are now collected for the first time and by chance and this gives an insight into his evolving artistic personality.
Writing either in English or Tamil comes easily to Isvarmurti. At Santiniketan the arts acquired a lot of central place in the scheme of things. He of course continued to paint; he learnt to sing Tagore’s Gitanjali songs in the original Bengali, though he didn’t master the music but acquired considerable taste for Hindustani music and Rabindra Sangeeth. His English friend from Cambridge in India, Jacque Sassoon was a great lover of Indian music and in his company Isvarmurti traveled to Kolkatta in those days and they were always at some musical event or other and also they visited so many of the big names, one Rudra veena player, a zamindar, Brijakishore Raychoudhry of Bishnupur was one name he recalls with interest even now. Jacque used to take him to this house frequently. The all -night Hindustani music recitals was a Kolkatta obsession and so too the duets of Ravi Shankar and Vilayat Khan. One can’t have been luckier than Isvarmurti when it comes to exposure to the best of Indian arts of the time. He bought a tabla and learns to play the instrument but this he had to give up once he was to sail for England.
The Kala Bhavan and Sangeetha Bhavan at Santiniketan were almost part of the other general education courses and thus Isvarmurti was moving with some of the great names in Indian painting. Nandalal Bose, Ram Kinkar and the many others were all active then and he had ample opportunities to move with his age group, of which some of the great artists of today were his old friends.
What he gained in the Indian arts found an outlet and acquired maturity
His education at Santiniketan and his long-time interaction with the Kerala Kalamandalam had shaped his interests in arts. His taste for Indian music and dances had been shaped by a variety of interactions and encounters with the giants in these fields. He knew personally some of the great names of the day in these fields, from Mulk Raj Anand to Rukmini Devi Arundale to Sunil Kothari to V.K.Narayana Menon to Mohan Kokar and a long line of artists and performers.
Appreciation of Western music, theatre and arts
Here again a variety of chances and travels and encounters with friends and others helped him to visit musical performances and theatres. While at Oxford he traveled often to Stratford- on-Avon where he enjoyed seeing the Shakespeare plays. One of the leading Shakespeare artists he still recollects with great pleasure is the immortal Vanessa Redgrave who is still active in the British arts scene. In London, he had seen the original My Fair Lady staged as a play and also seen the plays of Harold Pintor. One play that remains afresh in his mind is” Look Back in Anger”. Tate Gallery was another spot he frequented. At the Royal Albert Hall he used to be a frequent visitor and thus gained much exposure to Western music.
At Oxford he learnt to appreciate Western music. He had a German girl friend, Beate, now a grandmother in the country outside Munich, who introduced Isvarmurti to Beethovan and other greats. Listening to Beethovan was a frequent activity even when he lived in the village. There were log gaps in the intervening years but now back in Bangalore there are more opportunities to acquire the latest CDs and also to expand and the range of artists and musicians. The 250th birth anniversary of Mozart gave an opportunity to take to Mozart music more seriously. Mozart now has become a favorite of the entire family and most evenings there is some Mozart listening or other.
This child prodigy who produced so much good music, so consistently all his years had to see much poverty and die so young. So, more the emotional appeal to his music. So, Beethovan remains his favorite to this day and he says he can give a public lecture on the great composure. Or, as he says, if you just play the Ninth Symphony even to a new audience the audience would soon realize how great the music is and how it impacts on the minds and hearts and uplifts our spirits. Now, he is an avid rasika, appreciation of the three genres of music, Carnatic and Hindustani as well as the Western classical music is his favorite pastime.
Visits to Paris opened up the world of arts
Paris he had visited more than once. After marriage in 1971,the took his wife to Paris and in fact the newly married couple had spent some happy months in and around Paris, a visit to Paris while they lived in Montargis was their favorite ‘outing’! Where else but only in Paris you can see all the immortals in modern day paintings and sculpture. There was a time when Isvarmurti considered Aguste Rodin was the greatest sculptor in the world. Even today such an impression remains. His studio in Paris was his pilgrimage, he says. So too the modern art gallery where he saw the Impressionists to his heart’s content.
His interest in painting only led him to the Western paintings, more so the French Impressionists is his favorites. He visited Paris, as a student and visited all the galleries, the modern paintings gallery he recollects with great warmth, so too the Picasso painting and also Rodin’s Sculptures. While at Oxford he was a frequent visitor to the Tate and as such he had seen some of the great exhibitions, one particularly he recalls with so much enthusiasm is the Picasso exhibition. Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), he considers the greatest modern painter and there have been much writing on his life and work.
At one point of time, says Isvarmurti, he possessed almost all the books on the artists in print! Alas! Back in India and even before such rare books were liable to be stolen and that was what happened! He says to appreciate Picasso, you have to devote a lifetime, and such was his long life and also his uninterrupted experiments and evolution into so many phases. Also the personal life of the artist is so intermingled in Picasso’s case and also his controversial political affiliations. In 1944, for instance, he joined the Communist Party and in 1949 his “Dove” lithography was adopted as the symbol of the World Peace Congress and that had stuck for ever!
The Impressionists, he has his own favorites, Renoir and others.
He had visited Italy twice and had seen the great Sistine chapel and was greatly drawn by the artistic genius of Machaelangelo, so too his marble sculpture of Pieta (1499).So too he is an admirer of the great Leonorda da Vinci. There is a dusty volume in his village library, namely, Renaissance, by Walter Pater. This volume might have been bought at Oxford in 1959, as soon as he started his life at the University. For the present day Indian readers the name of Pater might mean nothing. Pater(1839-94) was an Oxford recluse who spent all his life at his college premises, he wrote these essays ,ranging from Mona Lisa to other Renaissance painters and it is the famous arguments for arts for arts sake,” the gem-like flame” aesthetic sensibility that attracted attention, admirers as well as severe critics.
The Oxford establishment considered Pater’s influence on the youth of his time very pernicious, creating a useful lot of simple idlers, not art imbued with a higher purpose, a guide to life. But Pater was always admired for his peculiar style, a fastidious style; it is less a scholarly insight and more an original artistic and aesthetic joy of creation in itself.
Anyway, the point is that this bookmthis man, created a sensation in his time and Pater’s impact, good or bad, as it may be had the greatest impact on one man. He was Oscar Wilde. So too his impact on the appreciation of English literature of the 19th century. The point of interest for us is that this book attracted the attention of a young Indian student of hardly 25 years. This speaks volumes for Isvarmurti’s aesthethic maturation. Italian Renaissance is a perennial subject of interest to him, so too the Greek and Roman civilizations.
Now, Isvarmurti’s interests had grown in many directions. He feels that any genuinely educated person has to have some knowledge and grasp over the European contribution to the arts, literature, music and arts. He has studied regularly on architecture, books and magazines, he has accumulated a vast knowledge on the decorative arts, in particular on furniture, his choice of classical French furniture, the Louis period sofas and desks and other furniture and pieces fill up his living rooms, both in the village home as well as in his Bangalore home, his knowledge of the interior decoration, furnishings, his choice of silks and other furnishing material could be astounding for a new comer to his homes. So too his taste for cutlery, porcelain and the other tableware. The latest addition to his category is the Sri Lankan porcelain, the Donkuttiya range of fine bone china tableware.
So too his strongly held views on Indian attire and Western dress choices. Any culture can’t be defined without reference to its cuisine, dress codes and the etiquette and manners, he feels. So his sensitivity to the shortfalls on the many newly emerging commercialized, Yankeeism of the emerging middle and other classes of people. The Mathew Arnold critique of “Culture& Anarchy”, the Barbarians, the Philistines and three Populace he traces and identifies with the Indian counterparts.
So any sense of aesthetics and our own sense of beauty and the “sweetness and light” which Mathew Arnold searched for in his 19th century England is now an Indian problem too! In the new century where crass coarseness of minds of the naive riche and the boorish newly emerging working and the parasitic classes fostered and turned into vote banks by politicians are all subjects for any aesthetically-inspired person and personality.
In the India of the present times such questions might look far off for the unintelligent sections of society. But the real problems of such basic importance don’t go away simply because we are ignorant or incompetent to comprehend. It is for such rare minds and intellectuals like Isvarmurti such questions also make sense and also demand a suitable response and corrective state cultural policies.
A Countryside Enthusiast
The destruction colonialism wrought in India is unlimited and the very ethos and the Indian heritage had been thoroughly destroyed by the long hold of the British rule, Isvarmurti contends. He has almost written about this aspect of our existence under the colonial rule and his column on the rural country, on living in the villages, the cultural and heritage value of rural life would testify to his commitment to India’s rural heritage.
In India there are certain contradictions about what we Indians believe to be our background. All Indians aspire for an urban life, rather an urban existence.
Mr.Amar Singh, the UP leader who is also the general secretary of the Samajwadi Party, a party that makes a fuss about the rural Indian and the love for Hindi language etc. is a person who can be taken as a typical India in that he is at once a socialist and an urban man. He says in a recent article (Asian Age (21, April, 2006) that “whatever we do is dismissed as the handiwork of the village bumpkins who are far removed from the culture of the intellect because they are from the countryside.” Then he proceeds:” We are not impressed by the French perfumes; nor are we sophisticated like the Congress leaders who are the alumni of Oxford and Cambridge. But, incidentally we rule, in spite of the Congress, the largest state of the country, where we have been winning the majority of elections”.
Mr.Amar Singh is totally wrong. Neither the countryside lovers are bumpkons nor the Oxbridge men nor are women intellects or familiar with French perfumes! Isvarmurti is a great enthusiast of the countryside. He has a deep and sustained interest and commitment for the Indian villages. When asked about his interest in the villages he says: “look, I was born in a village and I am the son of a farmer and our family lived for ages in the villages. So, why it should be surprising when we talk of the villages and their future?”
And yet it is surprising to find that in India there is this ignorance of the great issues that affect the countryside. When we think or talk of villages, somehow that we Indians seem to bring in Gandhi’s name and seem to associate his name with the villages. Also, Nehru’s views on Indian villages are often takes as a particularly important view. The famous Gandhi-Nehru correspondence where Gandhi stresses villages, Nehru dismisses villages as nothing but darkness and ignorance!
All these are wrong and irrelevant, says Isvarmurti.
In fact, there are certain areas of his interests where he admits he learnt much from the British traditions. One was the British love for their countryside. They take pride in the countryside, its beauty and conservation and they make it a status symbol, their royalty, their aristocracy, their country sports, fox-hunting and the sheer passion with which the Brits love their mother nature is something, Isvarmurti feels, we Indians don’t have.
So, it comes not only as natural to him but he also finds newer meanings into what he has done for the rural India. In fact, one way of taking this love for rural India forward into the political and corporate domain is his launching his media ventures. They are first and foremost devoted to promote rural India, to revitalize Indian agriculture, to care for the rural people. Thus, his innate passion for the rural beauty of India can be seen by his various commitments all through his years in India, in all his ventures, education, politics, rural development and the spread of rural education.
Our history had shaped as the British controlled our destiny. India became a feudal and backward society, thanks to the rise of the parasitic Maharajas and their minor cousins. The zamindari system only reduced our villages as dark spots. This is what Nehru saw. What Gandhi did was also an attempt to build a mass base using the villages. All this will now look too fanciful and not rooted in reality. Isvarmurti comes from the very soil of India, he is an insider of the Indian countryside, he speaks as an insider and all this makes the real difference to what the rural India is and its future.
It was also the early British officials, the rather high-minded among them, schooled in Oxbridge classical education, who saw the villages as “small little republics”, self-contained and self-sufficient etc. The Indian villages survived and suffered too. We read that Indian villages were often deserted, as villagers abandoned whenever the droughts and famines hit them or rapacious rent collectors fleeced them. Thus, there was no settled life, a perpetual and utopian rural life and dream, as such.
It was ironical that when Isvarmurti was in England he learnt to appreciate the British love for their countryside. It is in fact an aristocratic passion and an obsession and in fact, the love for the countryside is a royal pastime and we have to see the British monarchy’s many countryside homes. Castles and also her love of the countryside sports, her love of the horses and so too the other members of the upper class. The British Country Homes are an enduring rural legacy .So too in France where Isvarmurti had visited and stayed in the rural grand places, the châteaux!
One of the more interesting anecdotes Isvarmurti likes to recall is the time when he was asked to indicate the places where he wished to spend his Christmas holiday. The best description of the British rural living is provided by him in his book on Oxford and it is worth quoting in full:
His two British country house hosts
The Dickinson and Traherne families
Meeting the President of the Irish Republic
Eamon De Valera (Summary pages 68, 69, 70, 71)
Establishing a high school at age 25
(83 to 220)
Chapter on School
Former Prime Minister Chandrasekhar used to call it a model school!
Former Prime Minister Chandrashekar was a long time friend of Isvarmurti. The friendship started in the early Sixties of last century, when Isvarmurti was fresh from England and had already while in England was in touch with the then Socialist Minister in Nehru’s Cabinet, S.N.Mishra (who later became briefly Foreign Minister in the ill-fated Charan Singh Government).Isvarmurti then used to travel to New Delhi and as an enthusiastic Socialist it was only natural he became a friend of the Young Turks in the Congress Party.
Chandrasekhar used to edit a journal, Young Indian in which Isvarmurti very soon became a regular writer. The office then was in Connaught Place, in a building called, Theatre Communications Building. One Dayanand was the editor and in due course Chandrasekhar used to ask Isvarmurti to write even the opening article to a special issue that was devoted to bring about reconciliation between Indira Gandhi and Jaya Prakash Narayan. That special issue is a testimony to the high regard in which Chandrashekhar held Isvarmurti.
It is a long story. There used to be frequent correspondence with Chandrasekhar and in many of his letters Chandrashekhar used to describe Isvarmurti’s International School, as a model school. That vision the former PM got as he used to read regularly Isvarmurti’s own journal, the International School Newsletter, the precursor to the current School Journal! Yes, the school Isvarmurti founded was certainly not one more school. It was a bold experiment, a bold experimental school.
In any other country it would have been christened as an experimental school and the society would have backed up such a new experiment into what was really a stuffy school environment that prevails even to this day. Isvarmurti is a great educator and his intellectual foundations are solid and he would be treated as one more in the lines of Rousseau, Pesstalozi and others. But alas! This is India. Also, the rural India is a wrong place to start such an experiment and prophetically it proved to be right.
Again, the school story is long and also very painful. It brought to Isvarmurti and the family untold suffering and much mental agony. He had to fight the “Gothas” of the Indian society, his own community didn’t understand him, a community steeped in age-old jealousies, one among their own, and doing things that brought him much outside world’s applause and made Isvarmurti a hero in a very young age. Such a sudden development the narrow environment could not contain within itself.
The outer layer was an industrial town where the industrial houses promoted their own version of education service and patronage where also jealousies arising out of anything new and radical created problems for Isvarmurti. Yet, to the credit of the International school which thrived from 1962 to the mid Seventies, the School attracted wider attention from the outside world. There were two American Peace Corps Volunteers, one Quaker Volunteer from America, there were some 40 and odd foreign visitors to the tiny and non-descriptive village .There were teachers for music and dance and painting from Santiniketan and Kerala Kala Mandalam!
The School had its own newsletter, its own weekly book club and the many experiments in academic spheres like using the UNESCO textbooks need a separate chapter. The point is that something bold and heroic was attempted. The last British Collector of Coimbatore.
The last British Collector of Coimbatore, one Mr.Morris then was living in Chennai, working at Parry Company. Isvarmurti went and met him and narrated the story of his school to hi. Mr.Morris told: “Mr……I couldn’t succeed in establishing a District Board school in your area in my time. It was a thought territory. You succeeded and you deserve special mention by the authorities …”
The secondary school he built in the village had been both his early success as well as his enduring legacy.
The story had been told many times and what the school story had not conveyed to the outside world is the inner turmoil that caused in the founder and to the family. This turmoil had affected the way the family had lived since the days of trouble that ended in the total destruction of the school as a monument. The deeply-held primordial beastly habits of the villagers came out in full fury when they, like the vandals of the past, they relived the present in an orgy of violence and sheer physical destruction.
Isvarmurti built the school in his village, in his own ancestral land. The soil was sacred to him, the soil on which his father, his entire family members in those far off times had tilled and sowed and believed that will be their collective memory. For Isvarmurti when he inherited the property and when he decided to donate it for a public service and when he went about building the school, it was at that point of time a near impossibility. One has only to imagine how a 27 year old young man, fresh from Oxford can mobilize funds and human resources to raise a building, with 150 ft long and 30 ft width, all built in granite stone with a Mangalore tile roof, all in just 3 to 6 months in a locality that had never seen such a collective effort.
Says he:” For me the school was a collective cultural monument as well as a new channel to express my abstract ideas into concrete shape”. The jealousy, the eternal character of the Indian psyche, found an eruption that had no parallel anywhere else. This vandalism by a handful of the local people, there were some college graduates, one can even add one foreign returned, all they saw, as we see today from this distance of time, was their own mirror images of a rival in their own neighborhood, they saw him as a threat and as such they all found themselves aligning against a common enemy and a common threat. He was a farmer family inheritor as many of them were. Many were his own age group. Many could see him as their neighbor as many couldn’t imagine what the education and molding in well-know world education centers might have given him the inner resolve and the drive. So, they simply went by the false imitations and false comparisons.
Incidentally, the original list of the destroyers, we can even call them as the “genocide” men, also included some of the city schools headmasters and even education dept officials. They saw in his new found status as a newly elected Legislator (to the Madras Legislative Council) a serious threat to the industrial city’s dominant education institution’s standing in the eyes of the teachers and the educated community. A new face and one who came from a village, too remote for the urban establishment and yet he demolished the till then near monopoly of such elections a serious threat. That explains the participation of the leading headmaster of the most influential local higher secondary school, run by the well-known industrial family in destroying the Pichanur School. The active participation of the local district education officer is also to be explained by the fact that at that point of time, Isvarmurti was not in the good books of the incumbent government, the Chief Minister was a man of revenge and not a good character and as such the officials in the state had the habit of aligning actively with the party that unseated the more honourable Congress party.
So the local farmers, the young men and others who joined the demolishing squad made a fatal combination., They had the physical and brutal strength and yet Isvarmurti used to summon at will lorry loads of policemen to guard against such vandalism. Of course the International School was no Babylon or an Alexandria or the more brutal devastations other historic monuments, as in former Yugoslavia, and Tibet and Afghanistan were targeted and destroyed.
The rivals and enemies of Isvarmurti didn’t and they can’t realize what destruction they were causing. They, as a people, only succeeded in wiping out their own history, their own traditions. They tried to falsify their history. They didn’t realize that destruction makes it s history. But for their fury and sheer destructive displays, the re-building of the memory, this recapitulation of the very history, the very recreation of the monument into our enduring picture would not have been attempted! So, they did what they did and they are rewarded by this recollection.
The buildings might have gone fully or partially the remainders only gives us meaning and structure to the old times that are now captured into still pictures in our minds. A sort of bizarre atavism, a universal trait, can be seen here too. The school will remain a deeply embedded cultural memory and Vadamalai family would go into history as one of those numerous minor monuments of vandalism of a different kind.
What was destroyed was not monuments but the collective memory of a set of dedicated people, men and women of humble backgrounds and yet they had the vision and the honor to gather together to give a new heritage to an area that was steeped in darkness for ages. Now, because of the destruction the memory becomes more deep-seated and would live and inspire the future generations the site was a sacred ritual for some 15 years, as long as the institution functioned and educated generations and set out men and women into the world as more enlighted. In all their memories, in all the memories of their descendents, the school would live and inspire and would prove to be a source of legends and idealistic pictures of certain ideals and visions.
The destruction included not only the buildings and furniture; they erased the very names and marble plaques of the donors and the dignitaries who came to the inauguration of the school. So too they removed the bureaus of books and threw into the local dam water! So perished some valuable volumes, the Karl Poppers and Bertrand Russells! They say education is a fragile thing. For Isvarmurti education is a much more powerful monument than stone buildings. For he had lit the fire of knowledge and it keeps burning and spreading. So, as long as the Pichanur environment lasts the knowledge revolution started by Isvarmurti would echo and re-echo and reverberate!
Marriage and visit to Paris
His marriage took place on October, 5, 1971 in Coimbatore. In a society like Tamil Nadu with so much deep-seated superstition and where E.V.Ramasamy Naicker had made the demolition of superstitious acts like horoscope and auspicious timing of marriage such high decibel propaganda, Isvarmurti did things in certain urbane style with not much fuss. For this decision, the bridge’s family also agreed speaks for the maturity of the personality of Isvarmurti. He strongly feels that enlightened families must play good role models so that others, less educated and less cultured would follow such modern-day social practices.
As he was the M.L.C. the marriage was well-publicized in the local press and there were greetings from the state’s VIPs and well-attended by the local dignitaries. The newly married couple left for Paris on October 7th.
Marriage and family life in India
A Paris honeymoon? Yes, it was! And it was unprecedented too! Here again Isvarmurti’s life went on to set some good precedents. Gounder society is highly superstitious and the dominant community is not yet modernized. Isvarmurti’s life style is also very unorthodox and in many ways he is a trend setter of sorts for the community. Not been much written about. Not in the sense in which the current generation might like to read and know about the many aspects of society and the institution of marriage and family.
Even here, Indians are handicapped somewhat by the lives of our great leaders like Gandhi and Nehru. Their autobiographies have been widely read and what we find in those pages, what they say about their own family life. Certainly, they are no role models anymore! Like our marriage is a sacred institution, family life is something to be sanctified for the husbands etc. are all gone! Thus, we find Gandhi, getting married even before he thought about it. It was for all practical purposed a child marriage of sorts. Not very different even with Nehru, a much more Westernized Indian family and yet, Motilal Nehru went about it, as if the son had no role whatever!
Not very different is Rabindranath Tagore’s own life. We see women in these cases (Gandhiji, Tagore and Nehru families) were not given any role except to play subordinate or nay submissive roles only. Today’s world is totally changed. We live a more open and equal society. Yet we can’t even openly talk or debate on these issues, as, say, Bertand Russell does in his “Marriage and Morals”. Such topics are taboo, even now! So we have to be circumspect in these matters, he says. Today women play a more equal and active role in the family life and outside too as equal partners and participants.
In those times, the women’s consciousness was not there or anyone bothered by such questions. Today we live in a totally different world altogether. In fact, Isvarmurti sees the issue now in a more radical manner. He says, today’s feminism is much more radical than what was when he returned from England. Today, women are equal to men in all respects; even women can be as intellectual as men can be. Just we still have primitive in fixing marriages.
There is lot of coarseness and even crudeness when it comes to marriage and dowry practices. Women in this community have several advantages, the women manage the farming in several instances and yet the women are not given any enlightened education or treated on par with men folk. And to see how Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauoir were equals and as intellectuals of extraordinary kinds. The vast majority of the couples today might not reach such heights but they are today more equal than ever their forebears were.
Also, there is now more the same kind of issues in domestic life, more discords, more divorces and more sense of equality, more job opportunities for women and so too their opportunities to demonstrate their independence. When Isvarmurti returned from abroad, there was also the question of how he would choose his bride to be. The Gounder community to which he belonged is a land-owning dominant community in that part of India, namely, the ancient Kongu Nadu.
This community, though socially feudal and economically strong, was, however, culturally backward. Though there was spread of education, it was education meant for the rather emerging middle and lower classes, for those who wanted government jobs. The really richer section of the Gounders remained uneducated and almost lad an isolated existence. They didn’t know the larger world nor were they prepared for the radical changes that were to overtake them.
Today, the large families had all been broken up, old privileges gone and the new status symbols of power and authority, the mastering of the new economic opportunities had missed this community. Or, for that matter much of the rest of the society.
It was at this historic juncture, Isvarmurti landed in India. Yes he had confidence and the willpower to conquer the world. But he stood alone, almost isolated from the society which nurtured him and his values for long. The very sociology of the unprecedented education of Isvarmurti had put him on a high pedestal socially and culturally.
Here is one who was educated in a much more radically way than the routine humdrum of an education. In fact Isvarmurti was found to be a factor for much confusion for the society around him and the very uniqueness of his education and his enterprises were to cause not only confusion and also to contribute to the later-day troubles for him from the very same community. When it came for marriage it was again a series of confusions and heartburns. Where to place him? How to place him? There was no precedence for such a personality in the community. So, the search for bride caused so many heartburns and also hilarious situations!
Who is he? What social status he represents? He is not a traditional mould of an eligible bachelor, his education was unusual and no one heard of what is called liberal education. And honestly liberal education had no use for India! Not then and more so even now! So, when the choice of the bride had to be made she had to be an educated person. That is how Mrs.Isvarmurti was identified; she was a M.Sc. then a highly rare distinction for a Gounder family to educate a daughter to the post-graduate status.
The fact her family plunged for taking some risks was to be seen in what happened on several occasions since then. There was no horoscope, almost an obsession with the Gounders even today, and for all Indians one should imagine. There were no auspicious dates as such. It was the convenience of the families concerned, another rarity. Also, the month was October, another rarity. Also, much more daring was the decision of the bridge’s family you send the daughter immediately after the marriage for a foreign travel to Paris, of all the places. So, the long and drawn-out process of identifying the bride and the marriage was over when Isvarmurti established the school, he also got elected to the Legislative Council and he was finally ready to undertake a foreign voyage, pending for some time!
And family life in India is governed by some norms and age-old beliefs. Considering what Isvarmurti’s own peers have done and gone through, Isvarmurti seemed to have had a more conservative life and the family life style. Some of his Oxford contemporaries married outside their castes, religions, outside their countries; there were some foreign marriages (very much like what Rajiv Gandhi did). It is a sad reflection of foreign educated Indians, both men and women; they don’t make for ideals and role models when it comes to marriage and family life. That is a great pity and Isvarmurti feels that thought troubles him as he reflects on what had happened too many of his contemporaries. It is an extremely delicate subject, the subject of Wife’s family and background
Going to Santiniketan
Inviting Kingsley Marti, the Editor of New statesman weekly
Studying under Nobel Laureates and world famous philosophers
Sir John Hicks, Prof.A.J .Ayer, Isiah Berlin
His experiences of London
Kingsley Martin’s friendship
Acquaintance with the Editor of New Statesman
Isvarmurti considers one of his good fortunes of his life was to get the acquaintance and friendship of the legendary editor and journalist, Kingsley Martin. He was the editor of the famous Socialist weekly, New Statesman. In his time, when Isvarmurti was at Oxford Mr.Kingsley Martin (1897-1969) was the most talked about and most sought after editor of England. He was editor of the British Socialist weekly magazine, the New Statesman which was then an internationally known most influential journal. Most of the leaders and the top officials of most ,nay, almost all the Third World countries in Asia and Africa were at one time or other regular readers of this journal and most of them must have also know Martin personally. Yes, such was his reputation, this slightly a seemingly eccentric man but a very deeply convinced Socialist who counted Pandit Nehru and V.K.Krishna Menon among his personal friends.
All the best brains, Bertrand Russell, Lord Keynes and others wrote for the journal. Prof.Harold Laski was one of the brains behind the editor. This journal under the legendary editor defined Socialism, almost succeeded to contain Communism in its territories and sought to expand freedom by advocating the freedom to the British colonies and much more important it was a champion of India’s freedom struggle.
This was no ordinary journal. It was journal of extra-ordinary power and influence. One can’t believe that this was the weekly that in its stride it could take in a week a long article by Bertrand Russell to Eisenhower and Krushchev and the next week there would be a reply from Krushchev to the editor, a 3,000 word long article in Russian with an English translation! A journal for which the writers included all the great and the powerful and famous men and women of the time! Kingsley was editor of the journal for a very long time, some 25 years!
Isvarmurti came into contact with Kingsley Martin when he invited the famous editor to Oxford to speak to the Indian students. There was prompt reply from Kingsley, in his typical friendly and yet firm tone with the request to get both the Indian and the Pakistani students together. Originally the Indian students association had the title of Indian Majlis and with the division of Pakistan, the name was appropriated by them and Indians had to rest content with a more plebian title of Indian students! Kingsley was a passionate advocate of India’s friendship with Pakistan and he was also passionately involved with Pandit Nehru to bring about peace to Kashmir. So, I wrote back to say ‘yes’ to his proposal and so he came!
Kingsley Martin is a personality, with his silver hair proving unruly and he had to get them pushed to the side as he conversed. He was an engaging conversationist and there was a sort of irrepressible energy about him and he was a convinced Socialist and a believer in the truths he held dear and he advocated them so passionately and one has to fall for the charms of his persuasive skills.
So, Isvarmurti played host to a man who was a master of the universe and he cultivated all sorts of young men and he wanted to convert them to his causes. And that is how Isvarmurti became a convinced Socialist, a democratic socialist which meant you believed in Parliamentary Democracy, a Fabian Socialist and a friend of the Soviet Russia without becoming a Communist or a Marxist! So, Isvarmurti was transformed and Kingley Martin was one of those thinkers and intellectuals who converted him to a committed political cause and indirectly turned him to a full-time political career and life.
He used to walk past 10, Great Trurnstile, the office of the New Statesman and yet didn’t dare to walk in and see his hero! It used to be said that many of the later-day Prime Ministers and Presidents of African countries, in their youth might have wandered around the magazine’s office and cultivated the editor! Such was his hold in the countries that were fighting for their independence! Kingley Martin retired in December 1960 and so his Oxford visit was before this date and very much Isvarmurti was in the very thick of action in his term in Oxford! Kingsley Martin was a great friend of India and Nehru in particular. In fact, Kingsley Martin was very much respected both in India and Pakistan.
Even after his retirement, he continued to write a weekly column in The Illustrated Weekly of India. In his retirement he lived somewhere near the Victorian Station in a flat along with his long time companion and a champion of the Far Eastern causes, Dorothy Woodman. Both used to share a common interest in the freedoms of the Asian and African countries. They knew personally some of the leaders, Doroty Woodman is called the founder of modern Burma, she knew personally both U Nu, the premier of Burma and General Ne Win turned in the dictatorship. She was also a great friend of Sukarno, the then President of Indonesia.
Kingsley Martin and his companion were also known to think that everything east of Suez was paradise; everything west of Suez was evil! Such was their deep attachment to Asian countries. Kingsley Martin had a special English writing style. Says his biographer(C.H.Rolph, Kingley, The life, Letters and Diaries of Kingley Martin,Penguin) that Kingley was a man with several prose styles of his own.His long time secretary had once described the eminent journalist’s style as having the” cut of a jibe”. Yes, any great journalist must have this cutting edge remark; otherwise, any writing might turn out to be mere homilies! As they are in India!
Kingsley Martin’s acquaintance helped Isvarmurti to read regularly his favorite journalist and writer letters to the editor who sometimes published Isvarmurti’s letters. There used to be letters to Isvarmurti from several readers of the journal from different parts of England! Kingsley once told Isvarmurti to go back to India and write from India after gaining experience. But it was not to be!
Broadcasting in the BBC overseas Tamil Programme
It was at this time Isvarmurti was given the chance to appear on the BBC Overseas regional languages Tamil programme.When the deputy editor of the New Statesman(Norman MacKenzie,a Communist and yet chosen by the magazine) was paid a salary of 6 pounds a week.
Isvarmurti was paid 5 Guinea for a talk in Tamil that lasted not even ten minutes! And it was big money and it enabled him first to travel to London every week and spend time in the great city. He sometimes used to stay overnight in a hotel and paid for his meals and buy newspapers and magazines. In those days a day’s stay in a fairly decent hotel in a decent London locality cost him just 10 shillings a day!
Today, we can’t imagine such luxuries. A mere Bed Breakfast today in a fairly decent London locality would cost not less than 30 Pounds! One of the blessing of Isvarmurti’s BBC Tamil broadcasting was that back at home his aged mother used to wait for the programme every week and listen to her son’s voice! That was the only consolation for her,where there were not many who can help her write letters to her son or read out the letters received at home.Isvarmurti’s sisters lived far away and sometimes the mother would take away the letters to her daughters’ homes to get them read out to her.
It was terrible experience but luckily, the BBC came to her help in an unexpected manner.There was also no radio at home.There was only one radio in a neighbor’s farm house; she had to walk some distance to hear her son’s voice!
His mother played a historic role in molding her only son for the great achievements that lay ahead. Her single-minded determination to educate her only son against insurmountable obstacles is by now a legend in the village and its surrounding and much has been written and talked about what she did and what she had left behind. One of the rare pieces of information we get from what Isvarmrti himself had provided in the dedication page of the book he had written in 1989. The brief and yet a very emotion-charged piece is almost a prose-poem and worth reading in its original. Here is it:
Add more on mother
Add some information on father
Pichanur village, then and now
Interest in farming, an enduring love and obsession
College life in Chennai
Meeting Nehru and Nehru memories
Meeting Kamaraj and work at the AICC
Contesting election to the Madras Legislative Council
What he had achieved in the Legislative Council?
Isvarmurti in his time (1968-1974) was considered one of the active members and this is proved by the record number of questions he had asked in the Council. There would not have been a day, yes even a day, when the Council met and when there was no question from the member on the Opposition Bench! In time he proved to be the most knowledgeable member and given his young age and his education, the members and the Ministers were often forced to strain their ears to listen to what the Hon. Member was asking and what the Minister concerned did, in fact, struggled to live up to the expectations of the House.
In fact, there were occasions when some Ministers used to request the Hon. Member to defer a question for the simple reason the supplementaries from the Member might have some hidden and even embarrassing details! Since he was elected from the Graduates Constituency, very soon teachers and the more informed sections of society, from all over the state used to send him questions for raising them in the Council. Thus, he had a vast area of interest and we can say confidently that the Madras Legislative Council had only gained in stature by the vast range of fields covered by the Hon. Member.
Isvarmurti has lots of praise for the DMK Ministers of his time for many of them were mature leaders and what is more important they were also well aware of their own limitations. So, Isvarmurti was able to command their confidence and there were many instances when the Ministers from particular departments rose to speak or present their dept’s reports, they used to mention Isvarmurti’s name and used to say how they benefited by the Hon. Member’s many ideas. Thus, he counts the Education, Revenue, Agriculture depts. Particularly interested him and so there were many interesting debates and the concerned Ministers, namely, the late much-admired leaders, V.R.Nedunchezian, K.A.Mathialagan and Anbil Dharmalingam held the Hon. Member in high regard and the respect was mutually held. Even others were quite aware of his knowledge of the depts.; industrial development once raised a storm of debate when the Minister Mr. Madhavan and the Hon. Member used to argue over the ranking of the State in industrial development.
Among the Chief Ministers, he interacted with C.N.Annadurai very intimately and there were debates in English, when Anna presented his first budget.Isvarmurti was recognized early in his legislative career as one of the finest and powerful speaks in English when the Council had giants of men like Sir A.Lakshmanaswamy Mudaliar, acknowledged to be the greatest orator who could hold any audience to his spell-bound rhetoric and elegant presentation. Raja Sir Muthiash Chettiar was another such stalwart who could also hold the audience with his chaste English oration. There were many others, Raja Iyer, T.M.Janardhanam, a fiery orator in the EVR ideology and so too other members like G.Swaminathan and G.Krishnamurthy.
As for Tamil, it was the DMK era and so one can imagine the high level of Tamil oratory. The successor to Anna, Dr.Kalaignar M. Karunanidhi, was certainly the most powerful and persuasive orators whose repartees were legion and would turn even a hostile audience to succumb to his oratorical skills. Of course there were men like Nedunchezian who’s had his own speaking style, very effluent and effusive, full of gentle humor and dig and that is why he had earned the title of Navalar, one who is the master of his tongue power!
The two great Tamil orators who brought luster to the House were Ma.Po.Si, the Tamil rights party leader and the Saivaite Sanyasin Kundrakudi Adigalar.The two were so famous and they could sway the audience by their own distinctive oratorical skills. The two were also very close to Isvarmurti and were very indulgent to his many innovative and novel ideas and policies. Among the non-DMK ranks there were Socialists, Forward Bloc leaders and there were plain wisemen,in the mould of Kamaraj and it were they who lent much reality and common sense to the debate by their earthy wisdom.One in particular was Jayaram Reddiar,a long time associate of Kamaraj and in fact from the same town of Virudhunagar.
In fact, almost all the Members were very close to Isvarmurti, some of them very seniors to Isvarmurti in age and yet they all liked to cultivate his friendship and showed much interest to converse with him. Among such real heavyweights, Isvarmurti counts M.A.Manickavelu Naicker, who was the Chairman of the Council, C.P.Chittrarasu, a senior DMK leader and who became Chairman later, also N.V.Natarajan, a very senior DMK leader and also very humble man, the others are the late great Vanniar leader, S.S.Ramasamy Padyachi, once a member of Kamaraj Cabinet, so too Rajaram Naidu, once minister in Rajaji’s Cabinet and many others. Even those who represented the weaker sections Isvarmurti made it a habit of cultivating them and winning their friendship.
Among the lady Members there were Lakshmi Krishnamurty, the daughter of late Satyamurthy, Manju Bashini and Clubvala Jadav, the two eminent social workers whose legion of social institutions stand today to sing their legacy! What he had achieved in the Legislative Council? This question was posed to him and he recalls in particular the two Private Member’s Bill that changed the education sector in Tamil Nadu in a basic manner.One was to end the term of the Vice-Chancellor of the Madras University to six years. The other was to establish a separate Tamil University to re-organize the Tamil language education. That these two Bills achieved their goals so decisively is there for all to see.
Meeting MGR and his friendship
Other VIPs in TN politics and society
Raja Sir Muthiah Chettiar
P.K. Mookkiah Thevar
Leading Dravidian leaders
EVR,other DMK leaders
Friendship with national leaders
Indira Gandhi memories
ChandraShekhar, S.N.Mishra, Ajit Singh, Harikrishna Sastri
Leaders in Mumbai
Vasantdada Patil, A.R.Antulay
VIPs in Mumbai
Marriage and visit to Paris
Chapter on son’s education
Registered at Eton College, England!
The newly married couple spent some months in France and in England. There were too many friends in Europe; they were also guests of Isvarmurti’s Oxford-days friend Ms.Beate for some days in Munich, Germany. A son was born in 1972 and the baby was called by close friends and relatives as a French baby! He is the only son and heir to the family and the first few months in Pichanur were spent happily and soon after the family shifted for sometime to Coimbatore.
The education of the son was carefully done and the first thing Isvarmurti done as soon as the child was born was to register his name at Eton Collge, England. Also the son’s name was entered for admission at the Lawrence School, Lovedale in The Nilgiris.This is another 150 year old Public School founded by Henry Lawrence of the famous Lucknow siege of the 1857 War of Independence fame!
This was something that Isvarmurti always imagined and this was done as if it is another of his routine matter. He requested his British hostess, Mrs.Dickinson, to pay the 7 sterling pounds as was required. This was done. Mrs. Dickinson family has a tradition of sending their children to Public School and then to Cambridge, their son went to another famous Public School, namely, Rugby Public School. And one of the glories of England is its famous Public Schools, public school education produced a world Empire, we should keep in mind! Today Eton College fees come to nearly (or more?) to Rs. fifteen lakhs!
Everyone in India might have read about Jawaharlal Nehru’s education in England. Motilal Nehru was an ambitious man; he got his son admitted to Harrow College, the leading Public School in England. Eton College is much bigger and also much more historical and famous for educating the worlds richest and the famous families, the royalty of the world and almost all the best English families used to send their sons, this Public School doesn’t admit girl students yet. Heard of the famous adage? The battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton? Yes, this is the very same school to have produced some of the greatest leaders of the world. This is a fifteenth century school, founded by the king and in those times most of the schools and colleges in Oxford were founded either by the kings or their ministers or churchmen.
Going to Eton was not an easy step for most families and Isvarmurti’s decision was based on several factors. One, he thought in his own usual way that he could take his son one day and get him educated in the best possible way.
Much more important and ranked high in his mind was the awareness that he himself having had the best education possible, in fact he had an education that exceeded his family’s imagination and as such he thought of giving his son a still higher level of the education, more in particular the higher level education values.
He had written in great detail in his Tamil autobiography about what prompted him to give his son the sort of education he gave eventually. First, he wanted education, for his son, as for himself, not to get any jobs under somebody. Going for an education and for a job was never in the wildest imagination of this family. So, what sort of education they wanted for their son?
They wanted to give an education that can broadly be called a liberal education.
There was a dilemma in Isvarmurti.He went to a Gandhian school, later to Tagore’s university. Then, why he didn’t want to send his to these institutions? There were ample reasons to do so. He wanted his son to get a modern-day education and that too in an exclusive and special way. Unfortunately, Indian education as it is, largely, gives not a superiority complex to students but the appositive lack of self-confidence. So he chose the institutions that would expose young persons to a wider society, an all India audience and a social and political milieu that would give current set of challenges and opportunities!
This is not understood at all in India, of today or in the India of yester years at all. In fact, we can understand the mind of Isvarmurti and much of his personality by looking at what sort of education he values most and what sort of education ideals he wants to promote. There must be an education that must give the young people a sense of confidence in them. The sense of joy and freedom,the sense of cultivating the mental faculties of young minds, the ability to behave well, learn good manners and etiquette, the ability to stand alone, to think for oneself are some of the criterion he values most. So, the son was sent to the local nursery in Combatore, near their house. After few years in one or two other schools he took his son to put into Lawrence School.
The son wrote the entrance test and in the first round his name was not declared. May be, it was in keeping with the family’s tradition! Isvarmurti was also to face such a dilemma when his mother sought to admit him to the Ramakrishna Mission School, way back in 1946! However the determined illiterate lady persisted and won her way!
Isvarmurti one day took his son and introduced him to the Principal, L.N.Vyas telling him:”This young man wants to join you!”Mr.Vyas was a fine gentleman and in the next few days the family got a letter saying:” Please bring Kartik, we will admit him”. May be other parents might not have spoken to the Principal that way and the bold approach must have impressed, the gentleman the Principal was! When the letter came home Isvarmurti in Cochin in Kerala and his wife telephoned him the good news.
In fact, Isvarmurti was at that moment engaged in a conversation with the great Kerala personality M.K.K.Nayar who was Chairman of FACT Company. Sometimes certain good tidings coincide straightaway!” It was a nice gesture, in keeping with the aristocratic tradition of the Public School.
It was at this time the family also got a telegram from Eton College, asking whether Kartik will be coming to Eton. It was not to be, for the family was faced with certain logistical problems, there were so many preoccupations and the school Isvarmurti founded in his village too was facing certain problems. The one lesson from this was that to live in the Indian villages is not easy for educated persons and Isvarmurti had to regrettably admit he was no exception! But he didn’t give up his ideals and he persisted. The one more outcome of this persistence was that he had to pay heavy prices for his persistence. He was no Gandhi to fight steadfastedly, though he did fight back and his life was to take drastic turns and also brought much difficult ties as the years rolled by.
However, his son’s education proceeded on expected lines. In 1989 he undertook a voyage to Europe along with his 17 year old son, he was about to complete his Lawrence school. In the final exam in 1981, Kartik got first marks in Commerce at the All India level and he got the K.C.Mahendra Scholarship (of Rs, 5,000) for having stood first in his 11th and 12 standards. The family never interfered whenever he asked what subjects to study or what subjects he changed etc.No parents will believe such things, would they?
He took his son to introduce him to the Oxford and Cambridge Universities and one of the outcomes of this visit was what they, the father and son duo heard from the admissions secretary, a nice lady, at Trinity College, Cambridge. She said in the course of the conversation that most students from India come from Delhi University and that pointed to the good quality education of the Delhi University, she said. That decided the decision of the family to send Kartic to Delhi!
So, the next four years for Kartik were hectic in Delhi and these four years also saw Isvarmurti often in Delhi in connection with his political activities.
Kartik was feeling lonely sometimes and hence the family often visited Delhi. He first joined the B.A.Hons course in economics at the Sri Ram College and in the final exams he stood first! Then, he joined the famous Delhi School of Economics and here too he got first.
It was during this year he started to apply to Oxford Colleges and one day among the many scholarships he applied, the Overseas Development Agency (ODA) without anybody’s reference or recommendation offered the full scholarship to Kartik based on his marks alone! In fact, for the previous two years he was applying to Oxford Colleges, two of them gave him admission easily but he couldn’t get the right scholarship. Oxford admissions themselves are very severe and only the best get through. Also, the scholarships are also contested fiercely, most of the Delhi boys and girls get through for the simple reason they are based in Delhi where the pressures are strong and most bureaucrats manipulate and get their wards into Oxford. Though most of these students come back or stay abroad and make for the routine careers, into MNC banks or some such high paying careers. But Kartik and the family wanted different set of values.
The day the letter from ODA came is still fresh in memory. That day Kartik and his father were restless in Coimbatore where they had gone on some errand. They wanted to return quickly to the village for they were expecting a letter that day from Oxford. There was such a letter! Once opened the happy news was reported thus:” We are glad to inform you that you have been awarded the Overseas Development Agency Scholarship”
There were some specialties about that scholarship. It was the scholarship that is awarded at the international level. Second, the award is for seven of the Commonwealth countries.Third, there was one for India. That was won by Kartik! He was admitted to the Wolfson College, the newly established Oxford College, it is like a five star hotel, so modern, so much in contrast to the New College his father went to. New College, a 13th century College is still so ancient, the walls, rooms and the buildings are retained with the same old style, its architecture is archaic and yet loving conserved and with so much traditions!
Kartik left India, from Chennai on September 25, 1994 by a British Airways flight.
Chapter -11 Son’s education
Recalling son from Oxford “Don’t do a PhD Programme!”
Some of the memorable things when Kartik was at Oxford were the regular correspondence with his family. These letters make for interesting reading even now. Some of the letters were published the in the School journal published by the family .There is a long discussion about the books he read. One was his very enthusiastic letter soon after he read a latest biography of Lord Curzon (Curzon: David Gilmous, 1994)
As it is well-know n that Curzon was one of the most successful Viceroys of India and he had his own mind, his own sense of a mission and a destiny. He went to Eton and then Oxford, his College, the Balliol, had the reputation of sending the maximum number of Viceroys to India. He was also the model Imperialist in which mould his college then molded the bright young men, to serve the Empire.Curzon was the British Empire’s very embodiment of the virtues and we can now say the vices too! The self- confidence and the arrogance go together in the so-called imperial mindset and there were too many of them and Indians became so accustomed to this mental conditioning.
Though Kartik admired Curzon much, he was also well aware of the family’s own views and debates back at home about what the British legacy was and what we Indians have to do, the stand the new generation of Indians should adopt to strike a happy balance. So, Kartik was very sensitive to requesting for a visa extension without adequate mental preparation.
One day there was telephone call from Kartik to his parents. The day and the time are often recalled in the family. It was in Coimbatore where his parents were eating in a restaurant and it was forenoon when the call came. His mother took the call. There was some urgency in the call, Kartik’s voice trembled. His mother too was a bit agitated. What to say?
What he should be doing after the course? What decision to take then and there? At that point, Kartik had finished his course; it was a post-graduate degree in Agricultural Economics. The one year he spent was so memorable for all of us. Those days were certainly, as Kartik had written in many of his letters home, the most happy and carefree days in his life. He used almost write regularly and he used to call the parents home often and convey what he was all doing. He got his M.Sc degree (in Oxford this sort of degrees was a new anachronism for in the traditions of Oxford it was only one dgree,the time-honored B.A. and after which none bothered to get degrees, they went out into the world).
There were some questions about what Kartik would do after the first degree at Oxford. It was 1995 and this year has some historic significance and that was the invention of the World Wide Web and the coming of the Internet. One day Kartik wrote that he was starting to learn to use the Internet and started to give and receive e-mail from his school friends in the US universities. So, one day he wrote that he had downloaded the Harvard University Prospectus for the MBA degree.
He was dabbling with several options. One was to pursue a PhD Programme. Since he got a first class that was the natural thing to do at Oxford where at this point of time the composition of the students changed since his father’s time. In his father’s time itself there were more post-graduate students than there were in olden times and the trend was to get more academic qualifications for getting into jobs in the government and in the industry and other employing international agencies.
In Kartik’s time it was becoming more concentrated and more acute. When he was about to finish the course he also was in a dilemma. His visa period was also to close. That meant two things. He had either to leave the country or get extension so that he can pursue other options. Kartik’s patriotic fervor made him acutely uncomfortable at he thought of asking for an extension. For what valid reasons?
Kartik used to write home and tell the parents that how Indian students or for that matter foreign students in England were all had one thing uppermost in their minds. How to stay back In England and get a job or do odd jobs even just to prolong their stay. Obviously, Kartik was not cast in that mould. He knew his parents views and he was in a real dilemma and he wanted to have a wide consultation. Whether to do a PhD in economics at Oxford or whether to apply for a Harvard MBA that was then fashionable. This was the question Kartik asked in the phone on that fateful forenoon. The phone conversation with the mother ended and she handed over the phone to Kartik’s father.
Kartik explained the opportunities that were available to him on the strength of his academic credentials and he wanted to know what advice he can get. The father was of course not in a dilemma! Isvarmurti’s mind was made up already. In fact, the mind was so made up even before Kartik left the Indian shores! The father told his son:” Please give up all your ideas, dont have any more illusions. Give up the PhD Programme, even if you are getting the scholarship.Dont think of the MBA, from Harvard or from other US Universities. Your future is in India and you have to start an entirely new life only here.So, please wind up your Oxford establishment and plan to return to India…”
Yes, honestly, there was an element of guilt, an element of risk and also a strong sense of confidence in such an advice.
Readers have to recall what the great Motilal Nehru had said to his son.He told his son, to become an ICS and to qualify for that he asked his son to learn to practice to use a pistol and ride horses etc. It was when his son failed to qualify himself for the ICS, he reconciled to his law course.Motilal rejoiced other Nehru clan for having passed the ICS.
Gandhiji wanted to get into Oxford and he couldn’t succeed. Then only he qualified himself as a Barrister. Ninety nine out of hundred Indian families would have wanted their wards only to enter IAS or go for further qualification and stay back. Here was an unprecedented step from Isvarmurti to recall his son from Oxford by simply abandoning other thoughts but for getting back to India and starting a new life.
Isvarmurti wanted Kartik to play a catalystic role for the family. Also and no less he wanted Kartik to play a role that would inspire the new generation to take to independent careers, not to hanker after fixed salary jobs! Yes, Isvarmurti was taking a risk here, he knew. Though the family had ventured on an entrepreneurial trail, it was all still in its initial stages. The family had undergone some traumatic experiences and some of the worst crises and nightmarish experiences the family had to go through back in the village and also in the context of a hostile political social environment.
Yet, Isvarmurti was so certain what Kartik’s future course of action had to be. It was an independent entrepreneurial career. Consciously or unconciously, it was also the historic time when the paradigmatic shift was also taking place in the realm of technology. The IT revolution was coming and though none could have visualized the enormous growth IT industry achieved, Isvarmurti’s timing, so to say, was right.
Independent entrepreneurial career was also fraught with so many uncertainties. But Isvamrurti didn’t see any other alternative path. The one and straight path seemed a heightened sense of independence for the family and also for the future foundations of the family’s capabilities. In retrospect, how prophetic the Vadamalai family resolves proved to be!
Given the socio-economic background of the Vadmalai family, it must have been natural to get the son settled in marriage in a respectable family and also in a job or a career, as others in the society had done. But, Isvarmurti now recalls:” There were no precedents for what I did. The Gownder families were no examples for me. My education, my background and even my political experience in India gave me a totally different perspective to me. We, as a family, couldnt adjust easily with the families in our society. In fact, I often used to wonder whether I was not an exile! An exile in my own society! An exile in my own local culture!”
All these were true in the case of Isvarmurti.He had an enormous sense of independence and he was mistaken for being merely controversial! There were no peers for him to interact. He was greatly misunderstood for his independent thinking and expressing his views boldly and with no fear. As Isvarmurti often says, in India, the average Indian is basically a coward. The Indian is afraid of the authority, he fears the government, he fears his own independence and that is how our society had become a much suppressed and very constrictive society”.
So, Kartik didn’t want to spend a day more than what his visa entitled him and one evening he caught the return flight and reached Chennai. What is so memorable about his return home is the one distinctive memory: Right from moment he got into the car to be driven to the New Woodlands Hotel, Karmic remembers that he started discussing the businesses he had to catch up with from the next day!
Yes, there were the family dynasty thoughts, there was the landed property to attend to and the many other things that had to be looked into but the overwhelming thought was that Kartik from now onwards was to be on his own; he had to fight his battles, come what may! Isvarmurti’s own education had been extraordinary. It was a liberal education alright but it was not a middle class education either. It was in effect an aristocratic education.
Now, Kartik’s education too didn’t fall from this higher pedastal.The two generation Oxford educated family still made itself completely out of tune with the emerging socio-economic realities. The cultural scenario was also placed the family as one of the rare families in the scheme of things, both at the state and the national level. This was to prove in several instances. One was the Oxford- Cambridge Society of India of which the Isvarmurtis became members and yet they couldn’t interact in a natural way.
This subject might be discussed elsewhere, the point is that the average Indians, be it Oxbridge or other Indians are some how not so related to the Indian realities. The average Western- returned Indians seem to find it impossible to reintegrate him or herself with the Indian reality in a natural way. We can dismiss the US returnees. They have no serious hang-ups, except to display the externals of the Yankeeism. It is the old style Oxbridge Indians who find to suffer from some paranoia or other. They imagine they are superior and yet they crave for some bureaucratic existence, happily serving under any masters!
Here is a family which consciously stands out and stands apart.
Starting on an entrepreneurial career
Shifting to Bangalore as the base
Son’s return and the mental struggle to set the son on an independent entrepreneurial career
The initial days of the business, how it was all started and how it grew from a Business address to an independent business with its own office
Marriage of the son
The Gownder society and the social perceptions
Life in Bangalore
Successes and failures in life
The new opportunities in the Knowledge Economy
Pastimes, poetry, love of books, antiquarian books, catholic interest in music, Western and the Indian music, outdoor wanderings, plants, trees and nurseries, phototherapy, architecture, interior designs, furniture furnishings, cutlery porcelain,, tableware, love of other leisure time activities.
A great Intellectual
Isvarmurti is undoubtedly a great intellectual. In Tamil Nadu society there are so many emotionally charged language based movements where the leaders have assumed several high-sounding titles for themselves. Like Arignar (intellectual), Kalaignar (artist) and puratchi thalaivar (Revolutionary leader) etc. Also, lately the universities, more under political pressure than out of any genuine love for knowledge had conferred the honorary doctorates on some of the leaders and industrialists. So, there is an outbreak of “doctors” on an unsuspecting people. So, in this fake culture and in this commercial cinema-driven political world where the leaders are also from the cinema field, as dialogue writers, actors and actresses, we have so many fake “doctors”! So, nay discussions of high intellectual topics are also suspect! But because the outside world is rotten, we can’t take cover and go underground!
Isvarmurti stands out as the most outstanding intellectual of his times. He outshines all the others for a long time. Tamils pride on their long scholarly tradition, rightly. In this long line of great minds, Isvarmurti stands out as a vital link with the past traditions. We have to see how he is different from others who claim for stand up for the intellectual pursuits. Here too Isvarmurti is a class in himself.
The nearest to public intellectuals we can’t trace in India. May be there were few in Bengal like Nirad Choudhry.Only in Europe, we have intellectuals like Bertrand Russell and in France Jean Paul Sartre. In the USA today we have Noam Chomsky.
Intellectuals must stand up and speak for truth. They might have to cross swords with the authorities. May be Isvarmurti comes nearer to such a description of intellectual!
Books, books all the way!
A lover of rare and antiquarian books
Buying books, new and old, is Isvarmurti’s passions. The range of interests could be unbelievable. Literature, poetry, philosophy, biography and all the humanities interest him. Lately, his interests have ranged towards Business and Technology, IT books. The first book that opened his eyes to the computer revolution was the “Silicon Valley Fever” the first book that evoked his interest in business was Akio Morita’s “Made in Japan”. These interests have now become perennial. All the latest books in these areas, Thomas Friedman’s” World is Flat” to “Google” books are all now passé! Yes, his interest in the latest technologies might put younger persons to shame! Such is abiding interest.
As he looks for new titles, he is also an avid reader of the antiquarian books. He avoids the expression, “collector”. He is not. His interests are simply to look for books that interest him. He reads almost all the antiquarian books he buys.
Only those who love antiquarian books can realize what joys and exultations the discovery of rare and old books brings to the seller as well as to the buyer. What Isvarmurti prizes most in a bookshop is the sort of owners who run it. He has certain favorite bookshops, in UK he considers the Oxford’s Blackwell, the best bookshop in the whole world. It is an experience that only those who visited it and bought books there can be entitled to know! It is not only the biggest bookshop; it is also one of the high quality bookshops as well. The intellectual books one can find there in plenty. There are also some other great bookshops in London. In its prime Allen and Unwin was a great name, so too the others, the Murray bookshop on the Albermarle street. Of course, the Penguins are also the biggest. So are the specialized bookshops in London, there are ones for travel books and so too other specialist interests, from Country life to horses, gardens and food and cookery books.
Isvarmurti started buying old books even in London.
In Bangalore too there are his favorite bookshops. The Higginbothams, both in Chennai and Bangalore are his old haunts. In Bangalore the biggest bookshop is of course the Gangarams, the owners, the father son’s team are all Isvarmurti’s friends and he goes there often to look for the new titles or other specialist titles, say in poetry or biography, even he bought one of the biggest volumes on, of all titles, on Mercedes Benz cars! A near 5kg weight and it was a problem to bring home such a heavyweight champion. Now, cars and automobiles are another latest pastime!
There is the Crossword, the chain, where too the latest books can be spotted in time. The big volumes, be it on architecture, Venetian Villas, was a latest buy there. So too another biggies, one on the Pompeii archeology! One of Isvarmurti’s regular pastimes is his search for rare and old, antiquarian books. He is not a typical collector of books as such but a lover of rare books and spends considerable time over it.
History and historians interest him
A regular monthly budget now goes for books. History and historians continue to interest him. A.J.P.Taylor, the Oxford historian he listed to regularly now continues holds his interest. E.H.Carr, Paul Johnson, Eric Hobsbham are his perennial favorites. Biographies are another area of special interest. Roy Jenkins’s massive volume on Winston Churchill he rates high. It demolishes the myth about the Great War leader who wrote so much on his own family and yet as Jenkins, in many ways, his near equal exposes the fact that Churchill was not with any wealth, he didn’t even own as much acreage of land as other great old families did.
For Isvarmurti Churchill myth needs to be demolished, along with the Macaulay myth, if Indians are to acquire any self-confidence. This along with demolishing some of the other myths, like Rudyard Kipling, or other greats whom Naipaul criticized recently is all his latest themes! Love for rare books. His love for rare books started at Oxford where he used to search all the rare book shops. In his collection we can find some of the rarest books, almost all the world classics series of Tolstoy and others like Edward Gibbon’s tomes. Gibbon is his favorite author and this we can find out from the number of editions of Gibbon he possesses. Illustrated, condensed editions and also the classics on Greek and Roman civilizations.
In Bangalore he is a regular visitor to one rare bookshop, namely, the famous Select Bookshop, founded by K.B.K.Rao, in 1945. The third generation is now in charge and the son of the founder, K.K.S.Murthy is a veritable bibliophile and a long time friend of Isvarmurti. With Select, as he calls, it is a long love affair. He calls the bookshop; a den-like collection of very old books all jumbled in some dark-lit rooms, is for Isvarmurti is a research university.
What rare books he had collected all these years!
An original edition of the Fabian Essays published at the end of the 19th century is a rare buy. So too the volumes-Benjamin Jowatt’s translation of Plato in the original edition. The original volume of the big Plutarch’s Lives, the entire 14th edition of the Encyclopedia of Britannica! Books on Sanskrit, history, literature, by English and German authors he buys. He is also a regular visitor to the Motilal Benarassidas book shops. In each city, be it Delhi, Mumbai or Hyderabad, he has his favorite bookshops. In Mumbai, a visit to Strand and a chat with its owner Mr.Shenbag is his priority.
A guide book to Rome published just a hundred years ago! When there was so much time and also so much of the original treasures unspoiled! This sort of list can be unending. “Every day, every visit is a discovery” says the book-loving personality.” When I touch a faded and dusty volume, I feel the original hands that had written it and the original hands that must have read through the pages, their knowledge and wisdom comes to my veins and I feel much younger than what I am!”
Lover of plants and trees!
His love for plants and trees. He has an unusual passion for trees. He had cultivated this taste ever since he came to Bangalore where there is such a vast opportunity for such a pastime. He regularly takes time off to pursue this pastime. Bangalore’s two famed parks, the Lalbagh (1856) Cubbon Park (1870) are veritable treasure troves. The Garden City is home for some of the rarest tree species. A good number of flowering, exotic and native trees can be seen and enjoyed here.Isvarmurti used to take immense troubles to trace the names of particular trees and he would go all the way to meet the Horticulture officials or the leading nurserymen, some of the oldest families in this trade Isvarmurti knows intimately.
He regularly buys such rare trees, he had planted a lot of such trees in his village school campus and his home in the village and in Bangalore would bear witness to his tree and plants pastime. He can name some of the landmark trees in Bangalore, the casia javanicas, the very many species among them and the tabebuias, the yellow and pink ones, the exotic trees were brought from all over the world since the time of the Hyder Ali/Tipu Sultan days. All these trees can be seen and enjoyed in Lalbagh, where each tree is named and properly displayed, the names given in botanical terms as well as in plain language and the place of origin.
Trees from South America and Mexico, the West Indies, the tabebuias, also called the New World Trumpet trees are a great delight for eyes for all the travelers to the city. It is not unusual then to find that only in Bangalore tree lovers abound and anyone tries to harm a tree would be hounded out. There used to be demonstrations and bandhs if some trees are sought to be cut down for traffic or other considerations. So, you can even now see some of the mighty, old big trees right in the middle of the big roads like MG Road or St Marks Rd. Such is the tree worship in this city. So, it is no wonder the walkers, the joggers and commuters stop for a while and take a look at the gorgeous flowering trees during the early March to late April, just before the coming of the rains. The spring season in Bangalore is for flowering trees of innumerable varieties and in such varieties of colors.
There are some nursery men, who for generations have kept famous nurseries,’ some of them are more knowledgeable than the trained botanists. There is a Nurserymen’s Co-operative Society, the only one of its kind in India, and where you can buy your choice plants or tree varieties at a reasonable cost. One Munivenkattapa, a nurseryman, is over 15o years old. Isvarmurti keeps in touch with them and whenever he needs any clarification or a plant he rushes there to get his curiosity satisfied.
Chapter on Poetry
Isvarmurti is not a poet in the typical sense. Yes, he started writing poetry from an early age. He won prizes for poetry and paintings at the inter-school competitions comprising three districts. His love for poetry can be read in an article he wrote on the subject. This he wrote, he says, for the interest of readers of his latest volume of Tamil poetry and also for those who read the various criticisms his book evoked both in Tamil and English.
One reason why he produced such a bulky volume running to some 300 pages, at the late stage of his life, after almost a gap of some 30 odd years. That can be explained from what he says in the long introduction to the poems and also in the afterward in English running to some 25 pages at the end of the same volume.
But if we look at his life and activities, we can quote Gustave Flaubert, the author of the famous French novel, Madame Bovary: Flaubert loved his public and private worlods.He didn’t give much of himself to the public view. His letters were treated as a deversoir, an overflow, an outlet which liberated his personality.” He said:” Nothing personal tempts me any more”.
Here we find in Isvarmurti everything he considered personal had got an outlet. There is so much of rage and arrogance, the Tamil poetical tradition had not seen something like that outburst. He is almost non-stop in his outpourings, his suppressed ideals and idealism comes out with a bang and holds our attention almost non-stop!
The vast majority of the poems are autobiographical and here we find the poet speaking all he wanted to speak and yet didn’t find an opportunity to speak and express his inner-most soul with such frankness bordering on a thrust of brutality.
The self-deprecatory, the self-effacing, the almost self-abandoned Tamil tradition gets a beating, so to say.
A day in Bangalore
Typically a day in Bangalore passes off in a routine and business-like manner! The starts with a coffee and getting on to the treadmill! Formerly, it was a morning walk, through the beautiful, leafy and quiet Bangalore’s spacious roads for an hour. The early morning walk was the one he always looked forward to. Almost all his time in Bangalore the early morning walk was his first daily chore. Soon after the return was his first cup of coffee. Lately, the morning walk has been replaced with a more controlled and more disciplined, almost compiler-controlled half an hour in the morning and another half an hour in the evening on treadmill. The treadmill first was lying idle now had become a heavily used machine by all family members!
Then are the newspapers, almost all the major dailies, the economic and business dailies to be scanned through. The business dailies are also then subjected to careful reading in the office.
After bath and getting ready, a session at the computer has now become a daily routine. A minimum of 500 words or a column length article has to be turned out before the breakfast. In between may be a phone call to someone in a distant town or to other states is also an added item of duty.
Then comes the morning breakfast. That usually takes place between 9.30 to 10. A more disciplined and a more balanced breakfast, lately the health angle is an obsession for the entire family.So, the menu is carefully drawn up; the weekly fruits, vegetables and the other groceries are bought usually on a Sunday when the entire family drives out for a change. To the famous MTR for the famous coffee, the best in the city and also famous all over the world. A separate chapter can be written on the MTR outfit, such is reputation and also its own cranky conservatism!
Then, a regular walk or ambling along the beautiful century -old 300 odd hectares of the famous Lalbaugh Gardens and the greenery and the bought out morning quota of the weekly magazines are disposed off. Then comes the Sunday morning breakfast at any one of the famous outlets. There is always the faithful ones, the India Coffee House and the Airlines Drive-in Restaurant are unfailing companions! For the more exclusive tastes are the K.C.Das of the Rasagolla fame, the quality-conscious Bengali outlet. Then of course there is the old warhorse, the Koshy Restaurant, it is a pride of Bangalore. The old world charm would endear the place to anyone, for the regular faithfuls, it is a sort of ritual that has to be gone through once a while. So, we have our own quota of paying our respects to the eatery.
Then, there is a rage of buying the more specialized magazines, Indian and foreign at the unfailing Mr.Noor’s magazine shop on the Church Street. Oh, you can’t believe we splurge on this wayside newspaper outlet. It could sometimes run to even a thousand and above! Yes, the London Financial Times to The Economist to the Time or Newsweek or Business Week or the Fortune can cost a fortune. Yes, the lately booming media market is also a reflection of the booming IT industry and that also gives rise to keep in touch with the latest business and technology trends. So, the more specialized magazines too are now a regular reading necessity. And, remember, this is a highly educated and highly developed sense of reading habits! So, we read and read and also quickly dispose off the material!
Of course, this doesn’t include the books we buy often. Again, book buying is a highly demanding job. The books could be e-business books on which Kartik spends so much attention, while the father goes for more general books. The father has his own favorite bookshops that abound in the city. The near- century old, three generation run famous old and rare books shop, Select Book Shop is Isvarmurti’s favorite haunt. He calls it not a bookshop, but a “research university”.
All this doesn’t yet finish the narration! There is the British Council Library and it is a weekly must. To read the latest British journals and also to browse through and borrow books, mostly histories, literature and other latest books from UK. Now, we are still at the books!
A typical Sunday lunch is usually again out. But sometimes it could be in-house too.
Chapter on Conversations at home
A digital lifestyle!
A very diverse and varied taste!
The dining table at home is it in Bangalore or Pichanur is now a hot place for Vadmalai family members. There are always topics to discuss and sometimes, the discussions might take unexpected directions, always a bit heavy for the average guests! This family’s life is incomplete without taking note of what sort of conversations sustain the interests of the members of the family. Including the 4 year old granddaughter, Rajputri, who is growing up in an environment charged with so much fast growth in almost all fields?
Growth in diverse fields of knowledge and action. This family is now into what can be called a high decibel digital lifestyle. It is no more an exaggeration to say we live at a time when we live what is called a digital lifestyle. Our days are now organized by the Internet; Google starts our day and gives us instant information. We organize our day with a plan that is defined and controlled or directed by the Internet. All the three members of the family go about their day’s work according to the plans drawn up by the Google search engine! All our immediate needs, be it names or latest information on any topic in the world we are now accustomed to click our mouse and dot we are at the Google page. Even to look into the Encyclopedia Brittanica, it is now easier than actually get up and go and take the bulk volumes and search for the pages. Google does this job so easily! So, Larry Page and Sergy, the two Stanford PhD candidates who set up Google are the icons of the youth of the world. So too other legends of our own times, Bill Gates at Microsoft, Steve Jobs at Apple and other stars in Oracle and Sun Microsystems. Luckily, all these units have bases in Bangalore and the Vadmalai family lives very much close to these names! Everyday, they travel or move around the same name boards and how can one live without getting linked to what is happening in these giant hyper brainpower centers?
Yes, every one is using the Internet and so life for Vadamalai family is very well defined as life before Google and life after Google! Kartik is far into the advanced ways in which Internet can be deployed for doing a variety of things, of course for doing business. We are all now in a global era where the outsourcing business, made possible by the IT and communications revolutions have taken us into using the latest technology tools and that is what makes all the difference to the lifestyle we adopt at home.
Kartik and Mrs.Isvarmurti have their own separate businesses and what is common to all of them including Isvarmurti’s own areas of interest is the use of these latest technology tools. Desktop computers? Oh, that is now old hat. Laptop? That too is now used only rarely. It is now all blackberry and the other hand-held devices.
Kartik told one day his experience in acquiring the latest Blackberry model:” I ordered the Blackberry model…. from the local dealer. He said that the head office in Delhi informed us that who would buy such tools except for the CEOs and the CEOs would in any case would get from the head office directly. But we insisted and that is how we got the first five pieces from New Delhi today. One CEO waiting at the airport and took away the first one. Sir, you are the second one to get it in Bangalore!”
Then, Kartik said:” The man on Brigade road told me that I was the one to possess such a latest tool”. Then he said:” I wondered: in the whole of Bangalore with so many rich and powerful CEOs, what is this I was the one to have this one tool! May be they all got it directly from abroad or they bought the ones while they were abroad. Anyway, this shows where we, Vadamalai family stands…”
So the conversations at home often revolve around the IT industry news and what new applications the new tools enable us to do with. So books like The Google Story(David A.Vise) and The Search, How Google and Its Rivals Rewrote the Rules of Business and Transformed our Culture”(John Battelle and Thomas Friedman’s” The World is Flat” have become our business bibles and transformed our outlook altogether in totally new ways. These topics often raise lot of discussions, in the morning newspaper reading, coffee time or at the breakfast table or in the evening when we all sit together for an evening of relaxed moments.
Music talks one of the frequent topics.
Social issues, urban, rural affairs, politics, arts, music or other current happenings are all our topics of interest. Music is not just the middle class listening routine for the family.Isvarmurti’s long-time interest and his travels in India and abroad had exposed him to a variety of music and reading of music and so this topic comes up often. When Kartik was at Oxford there would be correspondence or telephone talk on books. So, what Kartik bought for his father were all heavy tomes! One was a famous Oxford Dictionary of Music, some 2 kg weight! Another volume: Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy! Again a heavy tome! So, he said:” I exceeded the luggage load limit for the British Airways by just because of these two books alone!”
There are discussions of how the Indian music and the Western music evolved. One latest book that evoked some discussion was” From the Tanjore Court to the Madras Music Academy(Lakshmi Subramanian).The book was of interest for the other reason that we had just then came back from our second visit to Tanjore! Tanjore played its critical role first by the defining of the 72 melakarta ragas (1660), by the son of one minister for three generations of Nayak rulers in Tanjore. And the second visit also to the Serfoji’s Saraswathy Mahal Library and what we heard and learnt about what the Cholas had did for the cultural heritage of this historic town.
What new views? Yes, the family conversations are not simple, routine ones but always some interesting insights or thoughtful views.
Carnatic music is not so classical in the sense of a long tradition which, by strict considerations, is not more than even 200 years. And considering the introduction of Violin in the concerts, we cant call Karnatik music so classical, it is rather very modern considering the integration of a Western instrument like violin and also now the use of clarinet which is now very much sought after and popular.
The one early pioneer one,A.M.Chinnaswami Mudaliar rendered the Indian compositions in European notations in 1893.And the Madras Music Academy sought to boost new compositions by warding a first prize for’ In Praise of Bharat Mata’! Even the much-admired Serfoji 11, known for his love of music composed a number of marching tunes for the Tanjore military band. So colonial culture influenced the so-called evolution of Carnatic classical music. Even the Hindustani music came after the Mughals brought in their musical modes. The great Sourendra Mohun Tagore (born 1840) was perhaps the one who perfected the theory of a Hindu music.That was another story.
So, what we discuss at home is the more historical evolution of music, both in Europe and in India, when the classical music was perfected, in Europe in the 16th to the 19th century, in India from the 16th(Mogul period) to the 19th century). Today we enjoy L.Subramnaiam, more than other violinists, for the obvious reason LS had got grounding in the Western practices, right?
So, Indian classical music, more so the Carnatic music has only become and remained a middle class pursuit. There is no visible (or invisible) upper class society’s genuine interest or involvement or patronage for the genuine classical music promotion. You go to the Music Academy in December and what you see? The front row of seats is largely empty! And yet bear the labels of the city’s leading industrialists’ name tags!
Yes, the Carnatic classic hasn’t got integrated into any good education or a mark of the high society culture! As it was once the preserve of the old rich and wealthy classes. The rich and wealthy today unfortunately has become more unedifying class of politicians or the god men! The new industrialist class of persons has no use for such high culture! Also, music and dance are now the preserve of the rather staid middle class Brahmin families. The secularization hasn’t touched these high arts. It is a pity. Certainly, Carnatic music must get out of the artificial barriers of religious and spiritual themes and much reach out to more secular themes, as in Beethoven and the Europe Any pretence to aristocracy must take classical music and dance appreciation as an indispensable mark. Unfortunately, in the highly caste-divisive Tamil society, there seems no chance for cosmopolitan taste penetrates the Brahmin orthodoxy.
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